Thirty-Nine Years Ago … There’s More
My post on October 17, 2020 shared the events of October 17, 1981, together with some professional lessons I got from early mentors, David Leiberthal and Howard Kashman. This post, begun at the end of the day on October 19, 2020 – the 39th anniversary of my first day at work at Lieberthal & Kashman, P.C. – and finished 30 days later, fills in a few blanks over the past 39 years. Incomplete it is! Stay tuned for more recollections.
Using Technology to Encourage Judicial Economy
An old friend of mine has been a judge more than 20 years. Awhile back, I allowed as how the courts could figure out, what with modern technology, how to have routine matters handled electronically. Like status conferences which provide parties a chance to apprise the court about how things are going, and raise issues which might require judicial attention.
“Oh no,” he said. He mentioned tradition, dignity, respect for the system, and a load of additional sh*t. And what did he not mention? Added cost for clients, when lawyers must show up live and in person to answer the question every judge asks: Where are we on this one?
Guess what? On the morning of October 19, 2020, I picked up my life and law partner and her bestie from Tucson International Airport. She and her Bestie had been marching in D.C.. We dropped off Suzanne, found shade a block away, and had a successful telephonic status conference in a case with difficult family dynamics. Cost? Four-tenths of an hour, as opposed to more than an hour if I had appeared in person. (For the other lawyers, officing not downtown, cost would have been much higher. Yes, for in-city travel, many lawyers charge from portal to portal.)
(Slight non-sequitur: I have also advocated for a first floor childcare center in the courthouse. Over decades I have seen children in elevators, with family members, heading into criminal proceedings involving parents or siblings. Normalizing court as a part of growing up advantages no one but when I raise the issue with judges I get lots of due process and budget noise. And, I confess, I have never pushed hard enough.)
Easy Work Is Gone
Early in my career, I formed business entities. Then, they were corporations. I charged $750, plus the filing and publication fees. Plus the cost of the leatherette minute book with the fancy seal maker. Others complained about my low fees, but I made money charging that fee, and in most years I formed 10-15 entities. (As well, entity formation offered opportunities for additional work.)
Today, almost 40 years later, I charge $750 plus fees to form LLCs. I do maybe one or two a year. Why? Uh, the Internet. A few years ago some wealthy people I know contacted me. They had seven rental properties. Someone told them they should own each property in a separate LLC. Overkill, I thought (and think.) Regardless, they were committed. Total standard fee? $5250. I quoted them $2500. They got back to me. Told me they would do it themselves, and I told them they made the right decision. If they messed anything up, I thought I could fix the problem for less than $2500. Much less.
Back in the day, I learned bankruptcy law – and how to try a lawsuit – handling lift stays. Motions, often ending with a mini-trial about the value of real property, filed on behalf of mortgage lenders who wanted to foreclose on their security. We billed by the hour. I learned how to be a trial lawyer. As well, I learned enough about bankruptcy law to muddle through some pretty big cases.
Skip ahead to the late 1990s. An old friend and client, whose business involves subsidized housing, forwarded a request for proposals to handle lift stays for a governmental lender. I put in a bid at $499 per matter, subject to an assurance that we would get at least 100 matters. The winning bid? From memory, $99.00.
A War Story
Last story. In the late 1980s I ran across an opportunity to buy the charged off assets of a local bank. I put together a joint venture with a client, which would front the purchase price. I would work the loans, and we would share the upside. The crown jewel? A second mortgage on Charlie Keating’s mansion in Paradise Valley, which we knew he’d never not pay.
I did the due diligence. I was at the bank headquarters on a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., four days before the purchase and sale closing. Who shows up? The Feds (FDIC people), who sent us packing. Our deal never reached the FDIC radar screen. More than a year later I ran into a couple of borrowers with defaulted loans. “Did you ever hear from anyone,” I asked. “No, and don’t blow it for us,” they said.
Blessed I was to catch a chunk of the wave. Gone it is, now, what with the Internet and, at every turn, better and cheaper ways to delivery commodity services. As for the bank deal, it told me, more than 30 years ago, that the real world operates in orders of magnitude larger than what most of us can readily relate to.
Fortunately, the economic changes offer opportunities for experienced lawyers to solve real problems. We work smarter than we did and focus on getting to good solutions more quickly. And the money part? No complaints, but the easy dollars left the field decades ago.
P.S. The bank in question was co-founded by a dear friend, client, and office mate for many years. And the man who owned the bank when it failed was, in 1981, the occupant of a one-room office next door to Lieberthal & Kashman. Today, his son is the Chairman and CEO of an NYSE company in the used car business, and the guy next doors, almost 40 years ago, might be its largest shareholder. Mr. R always said he did not read fiction or go to movies, for the law gave him better stories. Not there yet, but I take his point.
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