A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Getting Paid

When I graduated law school knowing I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, the one piece of advice I received over and over again was: don't go into criminal defense." The advice had nothing to do with the possibility that I would not enjoy the practice or the public's perception of criminal defense lawyers, it was based on one thing: money.

"You'll never get 'rich.'" I was told. "You'll never make 'any money."

For as long as I've been a criminal defense lawyer I've heard and read criminal defense lawyers bitching about not getting paid, asking about suing clients, and stating with authority that they cannot do anything to change the "way things are."

Whenever I say that I don't do payment plans, eyes roll, attitudes fly, and disbelief ensues.

I don't do payment plans. I don't audition for cases - you know, do the bond hearing to see if I can get the guy out and then see if I can get hired. I don't care that jerky down the street quoted $500 less, and I don't need to hear that "this is a good case" for me.

Practicing criminal defense is what I do for a living. I run my practice the way I want, and I don't let it run me.

I know, criminal defense lawyers have to compete with know-nothing paraders or mills that send out flashy brochures with the Mastercard and Visa logo, offering "easy payment plans," and letting the public know that there is plenty of "cheap" out there.

And I know, you can't possibly ask for the fee in advance because not a single person in the world will hire you. Every criminal lawyer in your community does easy payment plans (called "non-payment" plans) and if you don't fall in line, you'll be broke.

If you want to get paid, you have to demand to get paid, not hope to get paid.

Many of my colleagues work every day "hoping" to get paid. Why?

I am not "lucky," or any different than many of my colleagues. I just choose to run my practice with a philosophy that doesn't leave me chasing money.

I'm sure the comments will come in - "you don't understand."

I understand.

I just heard something once about "if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting."

Or something like that.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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  1. I note that you neglected to mention whether you've gotten rich, doing things your way. I, for one, certainly hope you have.

  2. As I tell my wife, I'll always be rich. I may be broke at some point, but there's a difference between rich, poor, and broke. I'll never be poor, I'll always be rich, and on occasion, maybe broke. When I, like all of us, have a bad month, I tell my wife, "we're not poor, if this continues, all we'll be is broke."

    Wealth is a state of mind. I have a great life, that makes me rich. Having millions of dollars and thousands of cases, doesn't make one rich, it gives them a lot of money.

  3. Anonymous7:18 PM

    I'm only a law student, but the private defense firm I worked at this past summer had a policy: they're happy to make a payment plan but they don't try the case (or file the motion) until they've been paid in full. It seemed to work well for them - they had multiple offices throughout the state.

  4. Everyone has a system that works for them.

    I tell clients: 40% up front or I don't file any paperwork. My assumption is that if they can't come up w/ the 40% within a week, then they can't pay the fee at all.

  5. This is great. I am glad that there are lawyers out there for more than just money. I know a San Diego criminal defense attorney just like that.

  6. I am glad that as a criminal defence lawyer and you have your on principles which you follows.