At a recent Senior Section CLE seminar, former litigator Janet Sobel provided a fascinating description of her 14-year “counselor-at-law” practice, as well as practical advice on how to set one up.
She is the author of “Insult to Injury—What Judges and Lawyers Know about the Legal System That You Don’t.” After many years she concluded that most ordinary people are not well served by the traditional legal system. Although low-income people can get free legal help for simple problems, middle-income people cannot. Nor is their income sufficient to pay today’s hourly rates. When they do need a lawyer, they often don’t understand what’s involved in the legal process and don’t now how to find a suitable lawyer.
Sobel counsels individuals at an hourly rate of $100 on the smaller matters that many lawyers will not touch. She advises them on their chances in court, will help negotiate contracts and settlements. She operates out of her home, meeting clients either at a public place or their home. If it’s a matter she cannot help them with, she will help them interview attorneys. She also helps work up a “turn key” case for the attorneys who take over. She will help with the legal relationship even after the client has decided to use an attorney. Sometimes instead of an hourly rate, she will negotiate with the law firm for a 10% share of any contingency fee awarded. She practices about 20 hours per week, supplementing other retirement income.
Her practice is largely built on referrals from the legal community with whom she keeps an active networking relationship. They see her as a service to whom they can refer smaller matters and also as a source of clients. Sobel has become an evangelist for this kind of practice because it provides a public service and is personally satisfying. She is happy to speak to anyone who is interested in learning more and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabriela B. Odell, BASF Senior Lawyers Section Co-Chair, provides practical employment law and human resources advice with a focus on small employers and non-profits