Damned if you do, damned if you don't: attorney woes
April 7, 2014 6:04 PM   Subscribe

How do attorneys find the “smoking guns” without getting their time written off and incurring wrath in the process?

Background: I'm an INTJ (quite rare, I hear), which means that I love to explore possibilities. This can be great for finding case-winning items in documents or in developing ideas, but of course, it can cost a lot of money and it’s time that’s more likely to get written off—never good for an aspiring partner. On the flipside, when I work quickly, I make mistakes, miss the “smoking guns,” and don’t have the time to think globally about the case and ask the important questions—that’s also not good. So, aside from “you’ll get more efficient with time,” how do I get more efficient now? How do I serve my client’s interests in this billable hour world? Or is that an oxymoron?

If it is an oxymoron—if there’s just not enough time in private practice to marinate about cases in order to do them the kind of justice that I think they deserve—then what kinds of legal jobs might be a good fit for me? By way of background, I was an Assistant District Attorney for a large county a few years ago and loved it (except for the pay), but circumstances led me to a new town and a new job. I’m not in the financial position to take an ADA job again right now. I love building a case from various ideas and pieces of evidence. I would think any sort of federal enforcement job would suit my personality type, but maybe I don’t know enough about what’s out there. Any thoughts? Any and all ideas—no matter how wacky—are welcome. This has really been eating me up lately...

(Actually, I’d be curious to know what types of jobs might suit my “detective” type of personality even if you think attorneys in the billable hour world can work efficiently and serve their clients’ interests)
posted by trandolph to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
DOJ antitrust division?

In private practice, you want to work on big matters. Samsung isn't scrutinizing it's bills in a multi-billion dollar case like a closely held corporation is in a breach of contract case.

Plaintiffs' side litigation also can have an enhanced investigative component.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:41 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

attorneys use the standard discovery tools: depositions, interrogatories, requests for admissions, requests for production of documents, and they go through those with a fine-toothed comb.

then there's the non-standard discovery tools. many's the attorney (nods modestly) who has heaved the contents of a target's garbage can over the nearest flat space to see what useful evidence might be in it occasional bonanza!

after re-reading your question, i am convinced that you should become an elite, licensed private investigator. i love the detective thing too, and i am so far an elite, unlicensed private investigator.
posted by bruce at 7:53 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I, too, suggest private investigator, but you might want to look into mystery writing. :) Building a case is just like building a plot. Lawyers become writers all the time, and it's no real surprise.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:18 PM on April 7, 2014

Copy editor, researcher, and/or fact-checker for a publication—though alas, such jobs are becoming just as rare as we INTJs, and the lawyer gigs pay a whole lot better! (Also, editors are always trying to rush the copy-editing process, so it's not like this is a profession that's lower-stress in that regard or in which you'd necessarily have the time to find all the errors.)
posted by limeonaire at 8:58 PM on April 7, 2014

It takes however long it takes, and the time it takes to come up with case-winning ideas shouldn't be written off. Is there someone whose time on the file isn't being written off? How are INTJs with office politics?

What about alternative fee arrangements (not billable hour), so that you're paid for a result instead of for the time it took to achieve?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:16 PM on April 7, 2014

Are you in private practice now? It's not clear from your question. Also, how long have you been practicing?

In my experience, a young attorney bills less because there is going to be more time invested in researching and exploring a case, and the rate goes up as the attorney gains experience and is able to find the smoking guns and winning arguments more quickly. The winning ideas come as you absorb the legal standards and can automatically apply them while the client is sitting in the initial meeting with you. The smoking guns, however, always take time, because no matter what a client says, you have to go through everything and find the substantiating documentation.

So when a client brings in three or four storage bins full of random crap compiled over a three-year messy divorce and says he knows his ex is committing tax fraud or doing drugs and is desperate to change custody -- he might be right and the law is likely going to be on his side, but tough shit on the time. It's just going to take time. I have to review every damn piece of paper, put together a case, the facts, the documentation, put an investigator on her for a while and FOIA a bunch of shit, all while going to court and doing work for other clients. It's going to take time, that's all there is to it, and yes, he's going to pay me for it because at the end of the day the office lights need to be on and the staff needs to be paid. If you feel bad for billing about this type of stuff, I guess all I can say is -- don't feel bad about it. If you go to the doctor and he can't diagnose you off the top of his head, you expect to pay for the lab work and for the doctor to go around the corner and leaf through the DSM, right?

But if the dynamic and pace are a dealbreaker for your current job, try: document review, dedicated research attorney in a firm or a legislative position. Check USAjobs.gov frequently and start reading job descriptions to get an idea of what might float your boat.
posted by mibo at 4:28 AM on April 8, 2014

Civil law firms are often hired to do internal investigations for corporate clients, which might suit your case-building interests and be an easy sell with your resume. Or you could go at it from the investigation side, like here for example.

Another option would be criminal defense or plaintiffs' work -- unlike civil firms, criminal defense attorneys often charge by stage of case ($X if case pleads, $X+Y if you go to trial) rather than by the hour. Plaintiffs' firms often charge by a percentage of the recovery.

Alternatively, applying to be a United States Attorney in a technical area like fraud or other financial crimes might be a step up from being an ADA -- the timeframes are usually more expanded than at the county level, the cases may be more complex and reward investigation, you have a whole set of federal agencies at your disposal to help, and the pay is better.
posted by *s at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2014

It sounds like you're best off working on large cases where what might be a wild goose chase won't be written off. Think of it this way, if you're working on a divorce case and are being paid out of pocket by an individual, they're going to be paying attention to every dime you're charging them. If you're working for a multi-billion dollar corporation on a multi-million dollar case, it makes sense for them to pay you to research or review every case/document/piece of information, because if the smoking gun moves the value of the case 1%, you've made yourself valuable. For example, I tend to work on multimillion dollar tort cases, and on those cases we get a lot more leeway to do research or take depositions or spend time reviewing documents than attorneys working on $20,000 tort cases.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:48 AM on April 8, 2014

A little different take here. I'm a lot the same as you; INTJ, like to cogitate and analyze, and just spend a lot of time thinking. A couple tactics for how you handle it:

a) If you're taking too long to do something, you cut your time (write down less than it actually takes). Obviously, it's good if you DO grow more efficient, then this won't be necessary forever.

b) You do half the thinking one day, then sleep on it, and the other half of the thinking goes much better the next day.

c) Like somebody above said, there are times that it just takes as long as it takes.

As far as what private practice jobs are good for this type of personality, I would suggest estate planning, tax law, or corporate transactional law for high net worth clients. You get to solve problems, think about all the potential outcomes, generally let your mind run on plenty of complex and fun problems, and the fee framework is pretty high so you have a larger time budget. Plus, in a narrower field, you eventually become expert on the subject matter, so that the analysis and cogitating is ever faster.

Also, Caffeine.
posted by bluesky78987 at 3:55 PM on April 8, 2014

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