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Lawyers all too often get a bad rap for being greedy. However, with the exception of lawyers that break the ethical rules and boundaries (looking at you Prenda Law), being a greedy lawyer can actually benefit your clients and society-at-large (yes, that is a big distinction).
Sure, there are bad apples, and some lawyers, like everyone else out there, will let greed get the best of them. But, in reality, greed is the status quo almost anytime money is being exchanged for goods and services: Waiters and salespeople upsell for better tips and higher commissions, businesses entice consumers with financing in order to squeeze out a bit of interest, and everyday people will drive across town to save $0.02 per gallon. For lawyers, however, the legal system is set up to reward that greed in the same way as businesses, and then some.
Below are the top five reasons why being the right kind of greedy is a good thing for lawyers, clients, and the public.
1. Contingency Fees
It's the simplest form of greed motivating lawyers to do good work. Contingency fees reward lawyers for getting higher settlements and verdicts for their clients. So long as the greed doesn't cloud your fiduciary duties and better judgment, it could work out in both your and your client's favor.
Despite what the general public may think of a lawyer that chops off a large percentage from a settlement or verdict, you know all too well that there was a real risk of getting nothing at all, or even losing money (even on the clearest slam dunk of a case). Even Above the Law recognizes that being greedy on behalf of clients is a good thing.
2. Fee Shifting and Multipliers
In some cases, attorneys who perform exceptionally well and obtain a judgment on a cause of action where attorney fees are available, may (in rather rare circumstances) be entitled to a fee multiplier or fee enhancement. But even without the multiplier, if you are entitled to your attorney fees, and you diligently, accurately, greedily, and contemporaneously, billed for every minute of your time, and did absolutely everything you could do on the case, your greed could result in more money in your pocket (and/or provide more leverage/flexibility to help reach a global settlement).
3. Private Attorney General Status
If you have a client with information about governmental or private corruption, or there's a cause you believe in, and a statutory private right of action, or a way to sue on behalf of the people, tax payers, or other group of people, certain statutes will authorize you to act as a 'private attorney general,' of sorts.
Generally, you have to tender the claim to a government official, like your state's attorney general, first. And if they refuse to act, you may be authorized to do so. If you are successful, generally, you will be entitled to your fees and costs (after being reviewed for reasonableness by the court), and sometimes even a percentage of the recovery. Even if you're just doing it for the money, the law recognizes that you still deserve to get paid (if you were right).
4. Coupon Class Actions
Along the same lines as the private attorney general-type actions, some class actions are over infinitesimal amounts of money for each of the class members. Despite the public outcry over attorneys making large sums of money prosecuting cases where the class members receive nothing, or coupons which are virtually worthless (that potentially even help the entity being sued recoup some losses), the result are generally good for society.
These class actions discourage corporations from behaving badly, which in turn protects the public. It only works because it is worthwhile for the attorneys to bring these cases. If there were no fees in it, attorneys would not be able to justify the cost of bringing these important cases, which in turn would basically allow businesses to scam everyone a la 'Office Space' with near impunity.
5. Greed Will Build Your Practice
While lawyering is often regarded as a noble profession, for most of us, being a lawyer means being in business, too. And successful businesses will usually be as greedy as the law will allow.
It's an all-to-sad truth that you can't give your services away for free. At least not more than what you can budget for pro-bono work. In fact, the greedier you are, the more you may be able to give your services away for free. But, even if you draw a regular salary regardless of your hours or ability to bring in new business, you need to be motivated to succeed. For most lawyers, especially those in law firms, while it may sound crass, that means turning the cases you're assigned into money while staying aligned with your clients' goals.