Our Feb. 12 post A Lincolnesque Law Practice? has been very warmly received, suggesting a craving for positive lawyer role models. Today, a savvy visitor was kind enough to share the result he received when converting into today’s dollars the highest fee mentioned in the materials quoted in our posting — the $500 fee in the 1838 murder case of People v. Truett, becomes $9434 in 2003 dollars.
Using our own arithmetic wizardry, we estimate that Abe’s $5 fees for many client matters would have been about $95 now. And, his annual income while riding the circuit, about $2500, would be about $47,000 now Those numbers should humble a lot of modern lawyers, and hopefully make them reflect upon what the search for ever-higher income has done to the practice of law in America.
- John W. also left us a great pointer to a Dollar Converter Chart. Thanks, John.
afterwords: In a Comment here, Evan Schaeffer pointed out that Lawyer Lincoln once charged $5000 to a railroad client, in a case where the judgment saved the railroad half a million dollars a year in taxes. Evan notes that the fee would be $104,166 in today’s dollars. I had this reply: —
Lincoln asked first for $2000 and then for $5000, after being insulted by the client, which refused to pay the fee. If he had asked for one-third of the client’s tax savings in one year (as many current trial lawyers might do), he would have asked for $166,667 dollars, or over $31 million in today’s dollars. (Of course, many modern lawyers, who charge a contingent fee based on savings, would use more than one year’s result to calculate the fee.).
Thank you for helping me understand even better the difference between Lawyer Lincoln and many of today’s lawyers.