The final installment in the saga of our intrepid volunteers of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church wrestling with the hairball of New York City land use, zoning, landmarks, and countless other laws and regulations in trying to reach what should be a simple factual/legal conclusion: How many developable square feet, as of right, pertain to our vacant corner lot abutting the rear of the Sanctuary?
For those just joining the proceedings:
At the conclusion of the third installment, we had engaged Firm C (an AmLaw 100) to give us an answer to the developable square footage question. We had requested and they had agreed to a fee cap of $15,000.
They have since delivered an opinion, caveated as you might expect, taking the most conservative possible position on the issues and therefore positing the smallest developable footprint—slightly smaller than the worst that we had imagined.
Be that as it may, this isn’t about their substantive advice, any more than the first three installments in this series have been. It’s about their approach to the not-inconsequential issue of client relations.
The final billing they submitted for what they surely must have known, had they given it a moment’s thought, was news as unwelcome as could be, came to over $17,000 in total. As for the agreed-to $15,000 cap, they informed us that “the engagement letter clearly states that we bill by the hour.”
I paraphrase, condense, and slightly enhance the pointedness of our reply:
“Well, yes, but why does that make this excess our problem?”
We could have added an observation about their evident inability to manage their own internal functions in running a matter, but why pile on? We were trying to take the high road—while at the same time being prudent stewards of St. Michael’s limited resources—and surely they could see that as clearly as we.
Perhaps they could see it clearly, but that didn’t mean they had to accept it graciously, because they did not. It took far more back and forth than it should have to get the total damage closer to (but still greater than) $15,000.
Reflecting on the countless interactions I’ve had with lawyers over my career in the industry, I’m delighted to report that they retain the ability to surprise me and even shock me into wonder at their cleverness and idiosyncratic talent for breaking with convention.
But this took matters to unexplored territory in the space-time dimensions of client relations.
I suppose another sort of person could take a lesson from this about how to run their own business (that would be Adam Smith, Esq., LLC in the case of Janet and me), but it would indeed have to very much be “another sort of person,” one who could conduct themselves such that charging a client more than agreed to left them unfazed.
Maybe we really and truly ought to take a lesson, because some behavior remains, to us, incomprehensible.