Lawyers talking about it is like discussing religion, politics, or how much you make per year. You’re not supposed to do it in polite society.
So, we for the most part don’t.
This reluctance was taught to us by the same institutions that teach lawyers that we should give away our services for free.
I’m talking specifically about law schools and bar associations.
When, during law school, do you remember a contracts or torts professor ever discuss getting paid: how to get paid, how much to get paid, or how to get paid more?
It never happened in my law school, and I’ve never heard of it happening in any other law school.
On the other hand, you likely heard law professors tell you your #1 job was to “do good.” You probably heard lots about pro bono hours. There was probably a “free” clinic in your law school in which you could volunteer. (Free to the client, but certainly not free to you as a law student who paid $150,000 for the privilege of providing free work.)
Our entire law school education was designed to instill in us the ethic of not getting paid for the work we do.
Bar associations do much of the same.
Almost every time I’ve ever heard of a bar association president or bureaucrat talk about money it was a discussion about pro bono hours.
There are programs galore to match attorneys with pro bono or low bono clients. It’s all about giving away services for free, or practically free.
And when a random bar association tries to match paying customers with attorneys, they do so by taking tens-of-thousands of dollars in bar dues and paying someone to rip off what avvo.com did seven years ago — which doesn’t even bring in clients anymore.
This type of old, misguided institutional thinking also infects lawyers’ when it comes to getting paid.
For example, I know more lawyers than I can count who feel bad about getting paid for the work they do.
They write off time. They don’t bill. They do work for free because they’re too scared to ask their clients for full payment.
They sell themselves, their families, and their firms short because of what they’ve been taught.
And what we’ve been taught as attorneys about getting paid is exactly wrong.
In fact, it’s unethical.
Why not Getting Paid 100% for the Work You Do Is Unethical
Not getting paid 100% for the work we do as attorney is unethical.
Yes, it’s unethical.
Here are a few reasons why:
First: if you don’t get paid 100% for the work you do, you won’t serve your clients well.
Face it, you resent your clients when they’re behind on their bills. It’s okay. It’s natural.
And when you resent your clients, you don’t work that hard.
You don’t put in that extra time on their motions. You don’t sit in front of the mirror and recite your argument like you do for those paying clients who you enjoy.
You just won’t work up to your potential.
Second: if you don’t get paid 100% for the work you do, you probably won’t be an attorney for long.
People who don’t get paid 100% for the work they do tend to not do that thing for long.
Think about a teacher whose principal says, “Look, Mary, you’re going to work really hard, pour your heart and soul in to your job, and we’re going to pay you 70% of what you should be paid under your contract.”
You think that teacher’s going to keep teaching for the long term?
It’s no different for attorneys.
You may be able to force yourself to work (poorly) for a little while, but that’ll end soon enough, and then you’ll be out, and you won’t help your clients at all.
Third: if you don’t get paid 100% for the work you do, your team will suffer.
When you don’t collect for the work you do, you suffer, your family suffers, and your team suffers.
Your team knows they could work less and get paid more if you would just collect 100% for the work you do.
How do you think it makes them feel that you don’t care enough about them to do your duty and get paid?
They feel resentful toward you and the clients; that’s how they feel. As well they should.
And when you have that kind of constant resentment floating about in the office, things don’t go well. Tensions run high. Communication is strained. Backbiting runs wild.
Fourth: you and your family will suffer.
Work long hours away from your family. Received 80 emails per day. Don’t get paid. Experience high stress all the time.
That’s not a recipe for personal or family success.
There’s a reason why attorneys drink and get divorced at elevated rates.
It’s not because our job is stressful (lots of jobs are stressful). It’s because our job is stressful, and we make it more stressful by working too much on stuff we never get paid to do.
In the end, you’re shortchanging yourself, your family, and your clients by not getting paid. That’s unethical.
Why Getting Paid 100% for the Work You Do Is Ethical
When you get paid 100% for what you do, things change.
You like your clients a lot more, which means you try harder.
You feel a greater sense of obligation to improve your skills as an attorney, which leads to better outcomes for your clients.
You make more money while working fewer hours, which frees up time for your family, vacations, volunteer work, etc. In other words, you live a more complete life.
You can pay your team more while they work fewer hours. That makes them happier, which makes you and your clients happier.
The systemization necessary to get paid 100% leads to greater systemization (i.e., organization) in other areas of your firm. This leads to more efficiency and quality work.
You feel in control. The control you feel over your environment and your life is exponentially greater when you know what you are worth and get paid for it.
You feel pride in your law firm and in yourself as an attorney. Not getting paid creates doubt in your mind about your real worth. If your client doesn’t think you deserve to get paid, how good could you be, right? Getting paid tells you the work you do matters, and that you matter.
You have time to sit and think about how to serve your clients better. If you are battling every day and not getting paid, you have no time to step back and think. And when you don’t think, you don’t improve your firm. With more time, you can design the firm you want and make improvements that will benefit your clients.
You have more time to market and grow your firm. You usually don’t have time to devote to marketing because you’re too busy working and not getting paid. If you stop work when you aren’t being paid, you can network, write content for your website, figure out how to close potential clients, or a thousand other marketing things that will bring in top-quality, paying clients.
You make more money. This allows you provide for your family, for your team, for your faith, and for your community. Always remember this: not getting paid is selfish. If you don’t get paid, you can’t provide for those around you and make their lives better, and that’s selfish. Stop being selfish.
There is so much more I could write, but you get the idea.
If you get paid 100% for the work you do, you will serve your clients better, serve your family and your team better, build a better law firm, make more money, and take care of those around you.
That is ethical.
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