Not long ago, I accepted a Smith & Wesson handgun as part of a fee in a criminal case – the pistol had been confiscated during a criminal matter and my client suggested I ask the court to take possession of it.
I did so and the court turned it over to me. Fortunately, a Smith & Wesson is a great pistol and is certainly better than the last one a court released to me – a Lorcin L380 that jammed every second shot or so and had the primary defensive value of being heavy enough to hurt an attacker if the gun was thrown at them by someone with good aim.
Through the years, I’ve accepted a lot of things from clients as payment – golf clubs, a truck title (I didn’t have the heart to use it and take possession of the pickup because my client needed it to make a living), a cell phone back when those things were uncommon, a bunch of Earl Grey tea made by a British company that knew what it was doing and some other odds and ends. Apparently, engaging in barter is fairly common when it comes to professional service. My brother is an optometrist and he told me he recently accepted a bunch of meat (filet mignon, to be precise) to cover one of his bills.
In the legal profession, however, barter makes a certain kind of sense. There’s not just a whole lot in the way of legal insurance out there, people need representation on various things and there are times when money is a real problem.
We’ve all had times when cash has been in short supply. People who are hit with a legal issue during one of those times might feel particularly against the wall – they need an attorney, but coming up with the money for one is an issue.
In those cases, barter makes sense. The attorney gets something of value and the client gets represented. Without attorneys willing to engage in barter, what’s the alternative?
One could argue that some legislation could be passed to make sure legal services are more widely available to people in need, while others may suggest expanding the legal insurance industry would be a great idea.
As an attorney, I’d suggest that an expanded legal insurance industry would be one of the worst things to happen. Just ask your favorite doctor how much he or she loves it when an insurance company disallows significant portions of their bills.
Barter can ward off such problems, so I am always open to discussing it with clients. If we do accept such alternate forms of payment from time to time, perhaps we’ll continue to avoid a practice-whittling insurance industry springing up to make us wish we’d been more flexible.
This column — part of the Practical Lawyer series — was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the Feb. 22, 2016, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.
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