I have been reading through some of my feeds after a rare bout of insomnia and I came across a post on the Home Office Lawyer by a US attorney, Susan Cartier Liebel, who had a terrible experience recently regarding her fees in a matter where she represented her husband in a labour dispute. In essence, Susan was denied her fees even though she was successful in her case against the city her husband worked for and was able to achieve a result which would also benefit other employees of the city down the line and yet she was denied her fees because she worked out of a home office:
Here is the rub….the attorney’s fees were paid to the union lawyer hired for the hearing BUT because I was married to the Claimant….and because I ‘had an office in my home’ my fees without a physical retainer were denied AND my fees WITH a retainer for the appeal were denied under the theory that somehow my claim for fees just wasn’t ‘credible.’
The language implied that because I worked from my home and resided with the claimant the trier must have inferred I lacked credibility and as he had absolutely discretion to award fees, his decision stands.’ They threw numerous nonsensical arguments with a lot of ifs, maybe, supposing to couch their dismissal of my claim for fees but the implication was clear. They denied all legal arguments which under normal circumstances would have been a slam dunk. They focused in, instead, on my relationship to the claimant and the fact I worked out of my home.
My sworn affidavits to time expended were ignored, my 13 years of practicing in good standing were ignored, the claimant’s right to select the counsel of his choice was ignored and the public policy to award attorney’s fees to prevent future abuses by a known abuser was ignored….primarily because I worked out of my home.
I don’t really see this being an issue here in South Africa because our legal costs system seems to be very different to the systems applied in the USA but what does seem to be an issue is that lawyers who work from home offices or even solo offices are often perceived to be less committed to their work and perhaps even as not working on their files as hard as lawyers in larger firms with fancier offices. This perception is just not true.
Having worked in a large firm with a fancy office I have seen how there are lawyers in those large firms who really work a bare minimum, bill for time not actually spent on files, and who still rise through the ranks, billing more as they go. These lawyers are in the minority, as are the lawyers who work from smaller offices or from home offices. Just as the majority of lawyers in large firms work really hard, I think it is fair to say that the majority of SOHO lawyers work just as hard, perhaps even harder because they often don’t have the support of a salary to fall back on in quiet months and are literally working to survive.
I am privileged to have worked with and be friendly with a number of SOHO lawyers who are an inspiration to all lawyers because of their commitment to their work and professionalism. Working from home is often a lifestyle choice, not an exercise in work avoidance. In fact, as with many businesses based at home, it is often the case that home office lawyers spend more time behind their desks than if they worked at an office. Saying that SOHO lawyers are less deserving of recognition for their time and effort is an insult to hard working home office lawyers everywhere.
There is a follow up post to Susan’s post on Home Office Lawyer which raises similar points and which is worth reading.