Monday, October 2, 2006
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
A reader asked by way of an e-mail how a client knows whether a lawyer litigating a case is spending the right amount of time (i.e., not under-representing and not padding the bill either with useless hours or with unworked hours). I wish I had a better answer, but I can see how it would be difficult for a non-business consumer to know. I suggested the usual proxies - detailed bills, willingness of the lawyer to explain, references from other clients, etc. - but I am sure none of those are satisfying. How do I know whether a house in this neighborhood is worth $X, or that an auto parts business is worth approximately 4-5 times EBITDA? I have the benefits of heuristics - rules of thumb - and experience that the ordinary consumer may not. I know from years of experience that doing this kind of deal will cost $X, or litigating a case for two years will cost $Y.
The question launched me into a musing during the morning run about trust. Trust is immensely interesting as a theoretical matter. I am dealing with it now in the context of duties as between deal adversaries (i.e. the right to disclaim truth-telling in or out of the acquisition document). Claire Hill (Minnesota) and Erin O'Hara (Vanderbilt) recently posted an interesting article on cognitive trust, in which they consider instances of non-optimal trust, and possible legal remedies. Is there a linguistic turn to trust? If philosophy of language tells us that there are no private languages, that all language is a shared experience of attributing meaning and context to otherwise arbitrary symbols, is the acquisition of trust somehow the acquisition of a shared language? My heuristic on the value of businesses or the value of houses is not something I hold privately, but the internalization of a social standard or expectation. I am comfortable with the jargon, and accept it as true. Can the same be said for the relationships between lawyers and clients?