The “Junkyard Lawyer” Myth

The Sound and the Fury

 Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Scene V

The potential new client says:   “I am looking for a junkyard lawyer, a bulldog lawyer!”

This statement from a potential client always causes me these disjunctive reactions:

  •  This person has never retained a lawyer before so is a “virgin” when it comes to working with a lawyer, or
  • This person must have a bottomless pit of money to throw down the drain thrashing through a legal dispute.

The last thing any rationaJunkyard lawyerl client wants, at least 99.9% of the time, is to become engaged in a long, interminable legal battle where predictably the only clear winners are the lawyers who are charging their clients by the hour.

Think of this ugly image: two bulldog lawyers scrabbling about in the junkyard, jaws locked in vice grips on each other’s shoulders, spinning round and round amid swirls of dust—“sound and fury signifying nothing!”

 What is the thinking of a potential client seeking a junkyard lawyer?


Lawyer #1, the supposed junkyard lawyer, barks ferociously.

Lawyer #2 cowers and promptly surrenders for his client.

Doesn’t happen.

What lawyer #2 usually does is console his client by advising the client that his opponent has hired a fool for a lawyer which unfortunately will make the process of solving the problem more expensive than it needs to be. And, the clients are off to the junkyard dog lawyer races, each unnecessarily running up their respective legal bills.

Clients cannot pick their opponents’ lawyers. But clients do pick their own lawyer. And that is usually more than half the battle.

 The math is really simple, most of the time: What are the client’s objectives?

 The first thing a client needs to do is have a clear idea of what the client’s objectives are. Are they to vindicate “the principle of the matter”? Are they “to teach the opponent a lesson?” How about “to stop this guy from doing the same thing to another person?” Or, “this guy is not going to get away with this! I don’t care what it takes to stop him! This is wrong.”

Eventually in conversations like the above, I usually end up saying something like this:

“How about you make a $25,000 deposit in my Attorney-Client Trust Account, I will go to war for you, and when that $25,000 is gone, I will have you deposit another $25,000 and we will make more war. Are your principles that important for you to vindicate in this way?”

Usually the answer is, “No. Not really.”

 Simple math for defendant clients who are being sued for money damages:

I ask potential clients if following really is the math they are looking at, and isn’t it pretty simple—especially if they are being sued for money damages:

Don’t you, the client, want the sum total of the following items to the lowest amount reasonably possible?

  1. The legal fees you pay your own lawyer, plus
  2. The value to you of the time you devote to the battle, plus
  3. The value to you of the emotion you devote to the battle, and finally, plus
  4. The amount you have to pay the opponent to resolve the matter?

 Wasting both the clients’ money on junkyard dog skirmishing:

If the opponent is unreasonable—which can happen very easily if that opponent has retained a junkyard lawyer—it may take months and months of legal wrangling, which will cost both sides money to be sure—to get the opponent into a world that has bears some relationship to “reality”.

junkyard lawyer2 But when reality finally does set in, the amount that the opponent actually nets is typically what it would have been if that reality had been mutually perceived at the beginning or much closer to the beginning.

And who pays lots of money for those interim months of legal wrangling? Of course, the clients! To whom is this money paid? The lawyers, of course.

 Simple math for plaintiffs seeking money damages:

If the client is seeking monetary compensation (money damages), the math is pretty much the same, assuming the client cannot sell the case to a contingency fee attorney. (If the client can sell the case to a good, reputable contingency fee attorney, then the math is different.) But if the client is paying an hourly rate to the lawyer, then the client wants the highest net return:

  1. The gross amount of likely recovery, less
  2. The amount of legal fees and costs paid to the client’s lawyer, less
  3. The time the client invests in the matter, less
  4. The value of the emotions invested by the client in the matter.

Hiring a lawyer is an exercise in assessing the likely costs and benefits. Nothing is certain and life is full of risks. But the, you knew that, didn’t you?

Look forward to the next The Frog Knows blog for more on engaging a lawyer to assist you solve your problem.

Frog Knows Blog PhotoThe Frog Knows, aka Chuck Farrar


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