f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 5, 2005

fee fie foe and fum

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:15 am

While thumbing through his dictionary tonight, ethicalEsq learned that fum means “to 

 play a fiddle.” He insisted on sharing that information (which Steve Minor probably

 already knew) and then asked to “guest post” here at his old weblog on the topics of

fees and lawyer-client relationships.  Naturally, we couldn’t refuse.                                                                                          

fiddle bow   From the dEsq of ethicalEsq:

Fa, Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he live or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make me bread

The verse from Jack and the Beanstalk seems more relevant than ever to America’s lawyers. 

When it comes to fees, our legal profession is fiddling away its scant goodwill, while its clients —

and youngest members — scream “fie” and are treated like foes.


An example is found in the latest cover story of Washington Lawyer, which is one more lament

over “The Tyranny of the Billable Hour.” (Jan. 2005)  The Billable Hour, rather than lawyer/law-firm

greed, is cast as the evil source of lawyer discontent and lousy lifestyles.  It’s as if the writer and

interviewees honestly believe law firms who shift to other billing methods will gladly allow each

lawyer to generate less income.  If you happen to see any hint of such an attitude (for instance,

here or there), please let us know.  Until there’s proof to the contrary, the track record of the profession

suggests that lawyers will either charge more while working less, or work just as much while collecting

at least as much in fees, which will merely be structured differently.  (e.g., our one-breath blurb here)


The one good aspect of the Washington Lawyer Billabe Hours article is the realistic approach —

taken by two lawyers who are outside the law firm rat race (MCI’s Anastasia Kelly and Justice Steven

Breyer) — that puts a lot of the onus on associates for accepting excessive billable hour.  The article




Referring to lawyers who work for her at MCI, and who reported to her when she partnered

at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Kelly says emphatically, “The quality of your life is your

responsibility! It is not my responsibility to give you a quality of life.  If you don’t have a

quality of life, it’s your responsibility to come to me and say, “I don’t have a quality of life,

and it’s because you’re making me work 80 hours a week.  So many people say it’s the

responsibility of a law firm or a company to make sure that their people have a quality of life.

It is a two-way street!


 “Moreover, says Kelly, any lawyer who feels an employer?s demands on his or her time are

too burdensome always has the option to walk out the door and go find a place that gives

you quality of life. That’s your responsibility: to go.  


“Justice Breyer, who sympathizes with the predicament of newcomers to the profession who

find themselves overworked, expressed a similar view in 2000:  More young lawyers may

have to speak up, tactfully of course, in an effort to help the firms create the workplace

environment that they will need. [They must] decide consciously what kind of career they

want and what they want the story of their lives to say.

If young lawyers want to work saner schedules but don’t want to sacrifice income or “prestige,” they need

to stop whining and realize that they are part of the problem (while, perhaps, hoping that maturity will bring

a change in priorities).    Is fumming related to fuming?  [read about lawyers and chronomentrophobia — the fear of time or clocks]



looking now
with greedy eyes
bare winter trees

greedily using up
the year’s first water…
the woman


Kobayashi Issa – translated by David G. Lanoue

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