Commentary Law Practice

The difficulty of collecting from acquitted clients

Kelly: Now when he [O.J. Simpson] was arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping, years later, did he call you?
Shapiro: No.
Kelly: Why not? You know?
Shapiro: Up to him. I wouldn’t take the case in any event.
Kelly: Why?
Shapiro: He still owed me money from the first one.
Truth be told, even with a notarized, written contract, it is very difficult for a lawyer to collect the balance of legal fees from the accused who had been acquitted and the case terminated. Attorneys suing their clients for payment of legal fees is almost unheard of. Also, unlike in civil cases where there is a monetary award or properties are the subject of litigation, the lawyer in a criminal case does not have any award or property with which to ask the court to put a lien on. Furthermore, judges are stricter on lawyers disappearing from hearings (a tactic to force the client to pay up) in criminal cases, esp. if the accused is detained.
I became primarily a lawyer in criminal cases because I love the adrenaline rush of preparing for the case which, if I incompetently handle the defense of the accused or I am unable to convince the judge that the evidence does not fit the charge, could lead to him or her spending the rest of his life at Abuyog, Leyte. (Okay, okay, I admit, the PHP 50,000.00 acceptance fee per docket number per accused is also a factor…) Judges are also more understanding of extended cross-examinations* in criminal cases, but most would tell you to wind up your cross after about half an hour in a civil case.
Once the criminal case is terminated, it is almost impossible to collect from the client. Initially I get promises to pay within the month, then within the next three months, then when he/she obtains a loan or sells a vehicle or a lot, until I get tired of reminding because it seemed more certain that I get married than that I will be paid for my legal services. Heck, if I were able to collect from those clients (some of them already blocking or unfriending me on Facebook), I would be able to marry two wives, if I just had girlfriends.
* My template cross-examination questions for alleged poseur buyers are already seven pages, long size bond paper, Arial 12 font, most questions of which are answerable by yes or no. It would typically take two to three hours for the template to be particularized for a certain case. (I once brought the wrong guide questions for a cross-examination, and it was the witness who told me after the sixth question that I am referring to a different case where he was also the poseur buyer, but that’s a story for another post.)

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