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The Parable of the Principled Client

Tim Kowal     April 30, 2021

Client asks an attorney to file a lawsuit over a business dispute.

"Your lawsuit has merit," the attorney says, "but it will cost more than it is worth. Based on my normal fee it would not make sense."

"I understand, but this is about vindicating a principle."

While considering this a bit irrational, attorney says to himself, "What else can I assume but that he knows his own mind?"

By the time a year passes the client has stopped paying.

"Your lawsuit is progressing nicely," the attorney informs the client, "but there is still the matter of my fee."

"Your fee? Your fee is now more than the lawsuit is worth!"

"But remember," the confused lawyer responds, "this lawsuit is about principle. You said money was not important!"

"But now remember what you said: that your normal fee did not make sense in this case. So I assumed you understood the principle was more important than your fee.

"After all," the client goes on, now slightly indignant, "I am principled, but I am not stupid."

"But why should I sacrifice for this principle?" responds the attorney.

"How should I know?" answers the client. "What else could I assume but that you knew your own mind?"

He who does business with one he deems a fool, is himself the greater fool.

Tim Kowal is an appellate specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Tim helps trial attorneys and clients win their cases and avoid error on appeal. He co-hosts the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast at CALpodcast.com, and publishes summaries of cases and appellate tips for trial attorneys. Contact Tim at [email protected] or (949) 676-9989.
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Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.

Leviticus

"It may be that the court is thought to be excessively legalistic. I should be sorry to think that it is anything else."

— Hon. Sir Owen Dixon, Chief Justice of Australia

"Counsel on the firing line in an actual trial must be prepared for surprises, including requests for amendments of pleading. They cannot ask that a judgment afterwards obtained be set aside merely because their equilibrium was slightly disturbed by an unexpected motion."

Posz v. Burchell (1962) 209 Cal.App.2d 324, 334

"A judge is a law student who grades his own papers."

— H.L. Mencken

"So far as the beginnings of law had theories, the first theory of liability was in terms of a duty to buy off the vengeance of him to whom an injury had been done whether by oneself or by something in one's power. The idea is put strikingly in the Anglo-Saxon legal proverb, 'Buy spear from side or bear it,' that is, buy off the feud or fight it out."

— Roscoe Pound, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law

"Moot points have to be settled somehow, once they get thrust upon us. If an assertion cannot be proved, then it must be settled some other way, and nearly all of these ways are unfair to somebody."

—T.H. White, The Once and Future King

"God made the angels to show Him splendor, … Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind."

— Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons

"Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws."

— Plato (427-347 B.C.)

"Upon putting laws into writing, they became even harder to change than before, and a hundred legal fictions rose to reconcile them with reality."

— Will Durant

“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”

— James Madison, Federalist 62

"At common law, barratry was 'the offense of frequently exciting and stirring up suits and quarrels' (4 Blackstone, Commentaries 134) and was punished as a misdemeanor."

Rubin v. Green (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1187

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