7/23/2013 07:00

The Professional Status of a Lawyer

Recently, by which I mean over say the past 30 or 40 years, I've noticed a desire on the part of some structural engineers to attain the same status as is accorded to doctors and lawyers. They seem to be having some trouble accomplishing this goal. To this willfully unemployed guy, it seems rather simple. So I've decided to offer a prescription for attaining this status.

First, raise your fees without justification. It is ok if there actually is a good justification for the increase, just don't provide any explanation to the public. Nobody understands the fees for medical care; medical pricing has become a cultural byword. Legal practice is entirely obscured behind the screen of a flat hourly rate, with the work done in any of those hours never very clearly detailed. To achieve the same respect as doctors, fees should move from high to exorbitant; the be like a lawyer, from exorbitant to extractive.

Second, always begin by providing a standard, cookie-cutter product. If that's close enough to what the client wants, your modestly paid assistants will earn the full fee for you. If the client demurs, the client pays for the rework. Either way, you come out ahead. Doctors, for example, spend about 11 minutes with a patient before ordering expensive tests or prescribing irrelevant drugs. That's long enough to charge for a consultation without the necessity of understanding why the patient insists that the knee pain is a symptom of a hip problem. The lawyer only spends enough time to distinguish between writing a will and forming an 'S' corporation, then has the legal assistant cobble together a document out of results given to prior clients in the same category. Buildings, too, can be designed using this same strategy; I've suffered through employment in several of them. (One was so poor that it provided fees to several doctors and lawyers as well as the designing engineers.)

Third, adopt a purely prescriptive manner of practice. We all know that doctors take the idea of "ordering" tests very literally; the rare physician who will discuss choosing appropriate diagnostics with a patient is probably close to retirement in a small town. And what lawyer has ever talked through the meaning of the legal language thrown into a contract, or its relevance to the relationship the parties are hoping to establish through the resulting document? Dressing up this style with lots of phrases about collaboration may be good public relations, but actually collaborating with your clients would be likely to result in loyalty and mutuality rather than the kind of respect granted to doctors and lawyers.

Full disclosure requires that I mention that I, too, would accept the level of compensation that the lawyers wrangle for themselves. On the other hand, in actual reality, I'm not at all sure that I would want to live with the status accorded to lawyers.