Attorney Magazine – Pay The Lawyer Last – Grant Woods

Attorney Magazine – Pay The Lawyer Last – Grant Woods

If you check your Black’s Dictionary, you will not find an entry for two Latin phrases that are prominent in the lives of most Arizona lawyers these days: slow pays and no pays. If you are new to the profession, you find out pretty quickly that your new job is different from most others. People need you desperately but will choose to pay you last—because they can. And if you are lucky enough to log a court appearance for one of these welchers, you will learn that involuntary servitude is alive and well, from the Land of Lincoln to the Valley of the Broke.

The phenomenon of the slow pay is truly epidemic. Maybe we should try it. You know that car dealer who is two months behind on his bill? Why don’t we walk onto his lot and pick out a nice new convertible and just drive it off? Shouldn’t be a problem—-we promise we will pay as soon as that tax refund comes in or that deal comes through or that guy pays me that money he owes me. We will just enjoy the car until we get around to paying. Don’t worry about it. You know we’re good for it.

And if a client finally just refuses to pay at all, despite that nice retainer he has long run through and despite all of his promises and excuses, then you just withdraw from the case and move on, right? Well, not necessarily. If it is a criminal case or if you are getting close to a trial date in a civil case, the judge might just happily inform you that you get to continue representing this liar, presumably for free. And you get to represent him for free not because he is poor or oppressed or because you think it is the right thing to do, but because he managed to maneuver and procrastinate and generally sucker you into hanging in there with him until it was too late.

Those must be some trials. I’ve never had it happen to me, but I’m sure that everyone is very professional and continues to represent this louse to the best of their abilities. But if juries do really pick up on most everything going on in the courtroom, it is hard to imagine they will miss this tsunami of bad vibes emanating from over at the defense table. We really should get a medal— especially since we aren’t getting any money—for wholeheartedly arguing the case of a person who is, as we speak, becoming one of the biggest debtors we will ever have.

In the book (and movie) North Dallas on a team modeled on the Dallas Cowboys is exasperated by the dealings of the team ownership. They tell him to relax, it’s only a game. But as the character observes, “Every time I say it’s a game, you tell me it’s a business. Every time I say it’s a business, you tell me it’s a game.”

Sometimes our “profession” is the same. I tend to think of us as very highpaid plumbers. People get themselves into the nastiest situations with all of their pipes backed up or burst and they call upon us. We get paid well, but we still have to go in and fix the toilets.

You would think, then, that we could get paid and get paid on time. The plumber does. But, then, he’s not in a “profession.” He’s just doing a job. So I guess that’s the difference. So we can be forced to do pro bono work for former millionaires rather than for the poor. But it still seems to me that something other than the pipes is getting Roto-Rootered.

Grant Woods is a trial lawyer in Phoenix emphasizing complex litigation, plaintiff’s personal injury, and government relations. He was Arizona Attorney General from 1991 to 1999. For more by the author, go to