Exact Approximations

Monday, September 17, 2007

Too good to be true?

Saturday, I had a meeting with a Private Investigator that I met at my old firm. PI Guy brought a huge case to Old Boss and was around the office a lot. We got along really well. Nice guy, middle-aged, smart (enough, but can't spell worth a crap), and he knows a ton of people. He does a lot of legal work and gives legal advice - basically pretends to be an attorney. He's been known to do clients' legal research and write their pleadings. If ever there was a person committing Unauthorized Practice, this is the guy (he's been accused 3 times, but never sued or otherwise sanctioned).

Anyhow, he calls me on Friday to pitch me some cases he's working on, and wants a lawyer to work on. Basically, he's at a stopping point on many of his cases because he can't do hearings. He had a sense of urgency - mostly because he has a forcible detainer case where PI has been helping a home-owner evict a tenant for lease breaches. The thing is, the home is technically owned by the guy's corporation, and a corporation can only be represented by an attorney or an officer of the corp (they haven't appointed officers yet, not that it matters, he's the sole owner) - so the court told him an attorney must file a Notice of Appearance before the judge will grant relief. So I go to PI's office, listen to the facts, procedural history, and current status of the case and give him some of my thoughts. Then came the mind-blowing portion of the discussion.

PI Guy wants to find an attorney, bring them on board, create an LLC, and become business partners. PI Guy will pay my dues, CLE fees, liability insurance, Westlaw access, and front all costs associated with the cases (expert fees, filing costs, law clerk salaries, everything.) I would be salaried initially (to ensure an income), and then once the business gets going (and in any event, less than 1 year), I become an equal shareholder and receive 1/2 of the profits. I get to write the employment agreement.

Obviously, my greatest concerns revolve around being able to competently represent our clients. Most cases are property law, red car/ blue car accidents, employment law, and some criminal work. I've done one case from start to finish - a straightforward car accident case where the insurance company folded and forked over the entire amount of the first demand. So my experience is light to say the least. I am not confident that I would be capable of becoming familiar with all the various areas of law in time to meet the deadlines in some of the cases (there are hearings as early as next week.) For example, in the forcible detainer case - I have no idea what to think about the fact that the corporation hasn't appointed officers yet, but already owns property (hiding assets?) -- Who would I sign the retainer agreement with? -- Would it be valid? -- These are all things I would need to figure out stat. Not to mention having to learn the applicable law for the action itself... It seems a bit overwhelming. But I guess there's lots of pros to learning how to fly a plane while you're building it. I just don't want clients to pa the cost of my inexperience.

What do you think? What would are your greatest concerns/questions? Does it sound too good? Is it a bad idea for a new attorney to jump right into a solo-practice? What obstacles do you foresee? Bonuses? Anyone ever done anything like this? How did it go?

Any and all questions/thoughts/ideas/opinions are welcome (actually, I'm begging you guys on this one.)

I'm supposed to decide soonish.

Labels: ,


  • It sounds scary, but you'd be far from the first person to do it. Lots of people jump right in and figure it out as they go; a lot of judges will be sympathetic of your inexperience (especially in very small cases, minor hearings, etc.) and will kind of nudge you along in the right direction.

    Can you handle the workload without impairing your health?

    By Blogger Make Mine a Triple, at 8:20 PM  

  • Do it! You have to learn somewhere and you've got some good experience. That's more than a lot of people can say.

    What's the worse that can happen? You put in the work, research your little ass off, you'll be fine. You're smart enough to figure it out.

    Can I join?

    By Blogger Arbusto, at 1:51 PM  

  • See Lex,
    You should do this yesterday.
    Loony Tunes Aunt

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:50 PM  

  • I do think you should do it, particularly if you don't currently have a job. However, my biggest concern would be of the ethical variety. The corporate issue thingy that has him looking for an attorney just sounds a shade dodgy, as does the fact that the guy nearly practises law without a license. It suggests a blurring of the ethical lines. I'm a Rule Follower and I wouldn't do good in ethically grey areas.

    Know where your limits are and make sure you write such things into your contract.

    If you look at a lot of recent scandals, the staffers who were either implicated or even indicted were very young and inexperienced. Thus, much more likely to shrug off unethical practises, figuring that if they are directed to do something, it must be okay. Or they feel they don't have the leverage to say no. Or they are so dedicated and into the mission, they just do whatever they think needs to be done.

    Proceed, but proceed with caution would be my advice. :)

    By Blogger -Ann, at 1:11 PM  


    Since this guy has been basically practicing without a license, pick his brain. He knows practically everybody, so, if you need help on an area, he can send you to the right person for info!


    By Blogger Crazy East Coast Uncle, at 2:46 AM  

  • Sorry if this ends up posted twice.

    Long post, but PLEASE READ:

    Before you proceed too far, I would point you to the CA Rules of Professional conduct (some pertinent sections are pasted below) available at: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/state/calbar/calbar_extend.jsp?cid=10158

    Second - I think you should call the ethics hotline - they are pretty good and will be able to point you to more information, including applicable case law. 1-800-238-4427 (toll free in California)

    Basically, I think that PI's offer, if accepted, would result in any number of violations of the Rules of Professional conduct. You could, however (just guessing) create your own firm and "hire" PI guy as a highly compensated paralegal.

    Rule 1-300. Unauthorized practice of Law

    (A) A member shall not aid any person or entity in the unauthorized practice of law.

    (B) A member shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where to do so would be in violation of regulations of the profession in that jurisdiction.

    Rule 1-320. Financial Arrangements With Non-Lawyers

    (A) Neither a member nor a law firm shall directly or indirectly share legal fees with a person who is not a lawyer, except that:

    (1) An agreement between a member and a law firm, partner, or associate may provide for the payment of money after the member's death to the member's estate or to one or more specified persons over a reasonable period of time; or

    (2) A member or law firm undertaking to complete unfinished legal business of a deceased member may pay to the estate of the deceased member or other person legally entitled thereto that proportion of the total compensation which fairly represents the services rendered by the deceased member; or

    (3) A member or law firm may include non-member employees in a compensation, profit-sharing, or retirement plan even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement, if such plan does not circumvent these rules or Business and professions Code section 6000 et seq.; or

    (4) A member may pay a prescribed registration, referral, or participation fee to a lawyer referral service established, sponsored, and operated in accordance with the State Bar of California's Minimum Standards for a Lawyer Referral Service in California.

    (B) A member shall not compensate, give, or promise anything of value to any person or entity for the purpose of recommending or securing employment of the member or the member's law firm by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in employment of the member or the member's law firm by a client. A member's offering of or giving a gift or gratuity to any person or entity having made a recommendation resulting in the employment of the member or the member's law firm shall not of itself violate this rule, provided that the gift or gratuity was not offered or given in consideration of any promise, agreement, or understanding that such a gift or gratuity would be forthcoming or that referrals would be made or encouraged in the future.

    (C) A member shall not compensate, give, or promise anything of value to any representative of the press, radio, television, or other communication medium in anticipation of or in return for publicity of the member, the law firm, or any other member as such in a news item, but the incidental provision of food or beverage shall not of itself violate this rule.


    Rule 1-320(C) is not intended to preclude compensation to the communications media in exchange for advertising the member's or law firm's availability for professional employment.

    Rule 1-310. Forming a partnership With a Non-Lawyer

    A member shall not form a partnership with a person who is not a lawyer if any of the activities of that partnership consist of the practice of law.


    Rule 1-310 is not intended to govern members' activities which cannot be considered to constitute the practice of law. It is intended solely to preclude a member from being involved in the practice of law with a person who is not a lawyer. (Amended by order of Supreme Court, operative September 14, 1992.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:04 AM  

  • I am probably a bit biased on my comment as far as your capabilities, but here goes. I think that because you are concerned about your clients that that makes you a better attorney than most. I know you don't have a lot of experience, but how do you get experience. The only thing that bothers me about the whole thing is his ethics. He doesn't seem to have a whole lot. That may spill over onto how he treats you and you maybe walking into a mess of his that he has been handling. Your instincts are good so listen to them...Your ethics are strong so use them...don't let the urgency of this force you into a decision you might not be willing to make yet. Lots of luck and love to ya.

    By Blogger TheMom, at 10:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home