Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sometimes things are really that simple

If you made it all the way down to the end of this morning's top post, thank you.

I've got to stop writing about that topic because it gets me frustrated and angry.

But I want to leave the topic with just one real-life illustration.

I'm a lawyer and, either on the defense or plaintiff's side, I've been doing personal injury cases off and on for the better part of three decades.

I've never made any big money at it.

The big money is made by only a few select firms in Chicago that get all the really big PI cases. Why?

A lot of it is reputation. Reputation that is earned, by the way, by a solid track record of success.

But this success becomes also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

See, any lawyer has to decide what cases to take. In America, plaintiff's lawyers make major investments in cases -- not just in their time, but also out of pocket, paying for medical records, court costs, depositions, experts... and these costs can seldom (very seldom) be recouped if the case is unsuccessful. Also, the personal injury lawyer is paid a percentage of the total recovery -- no recovery, no fee.

So a successful personal injury lawyer is also a selective lawyer.

The really successful firms can afford to be really selective: That means they'll probably take a pass on your case unless the liability is obvious and damages huge.

I used to think that the most prominent PI attorneys were truly great lawyers, amazing scholars and legal technicians because they achieved such great results for their clients. But, with time, I've learned: They're competent, hard-working men and women -- who just happen to have the incomparable advantage of working up only great cases.

In other words, it's just about as hard to prepare a small case for trial or settlement as a large one. The only real difference is in the potential reward. We want to think there's something magic or special about what the most successful lawyers do... but there really isn't. It really is simple. If you start with great cases you should achieve great results.

I think this is true in a lot of areas -- including government. A lot of people think because the numbers involved are so huge -- billions and trillions, not hundreds or thousands like we have to juggle in our own lives -- that the issues must also be huge or intractable or complex. Pick the word you like best.

But -- often -- it's just not so.

The oil companies are making insane profits because they are charging insane prices. If they cut their prices enough, their profits will fall back into what passes for respectable. It really is that simple.

Don't tell me the Devil is in the details. I'm inclined to agree with that -- but I think the Devil put the details there in the first place. We just have look past them, that's all.

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