Monday, July 14, 2008

Probably The Best Investment

Recently, I had another of my last minute trial specials. When negotiations collapsed on Thursday afternoon, the client was referred to me so that they would have someone to represent them at trial on Monday.

This was not one of those "good" types of cases to get at the last minute. It was a no-fault eviction (owner move-in). The tenant had failed to pay the rent for a while and now did not have the money to pay the back rent. The amount in question, in addition to the possibility of a U.D. judgment, was approximately $ 9000. Good affirmative defenses were... well let's just say that they were not in abundance in this case. Evidence in favor of my client was .... well not so good.

Pretty much I had mud and no straw.

The only thing I had going for me was:

Mrs. AngryBell got me this really great bag. Holds just about everything you can need for a trial. But even more than what it holds on the inside is its look. Since I got this bag at the beginning of last year, this bag has been the most intimidating thing in my arsenal when I get these last minute cases.

Prior to that, I would show up with all my trial materials in my standard computer bag (which to be honest has seen better days) and is none to intimidating. Especially since it is almost always over-stuffed (much to Mrs. AngryBell's complaints about what it could be doing my back).

Once I got the bag, as a Chanukah/Christmas gift, I started using it almost right away. And the mere appearance would cause my opponents to change their tune. In the first case, the opposing counsel looked at me, looked at my bag, and then looked at me again before making an offer and said "What do you have in there?" I responded, "Want to find out?" (For the record, I had 3 motions in limine which were ready to used - hopefully - to gut the majority of his case. That case had some really good defenses.)

After a year and a half later, namely today, I once again had one of those moments where the other side saw my bag, and then suddenly ceased acting like the raging bull which they had been during the previous mandatory settlement conference. When it was all over, opposing counsel looked at the bag again and asked "What do you have in there?"

Now, I doubt that this would work if a lay person (i.e. a non-lawyer) brought one in on the day of trial call. And I think it probably has something to do with the fact that the landlord attorneys that have been on the other end of my bag have realized that their cake-walk trial against an unrepresented tenant has suddenly become an expensive undertaking that is going to mess up the budgets that they had assured their clients to which they would adhere.

In all the cases that I've used this bag in, the clients have managed to avoid the dual whammy of an unlawful detainer judgment and a money judgment against them. Typically the amount that they have ended up spending on getting an attorney (either in time spent working pro bono groups or money in fee's the Law Offices of the AngryBell) have usually been good investments. Now, is this to say that any given attorney (including myself) will always be able to get you a good result at the last minute?


But it does put the party in a better position to negotiate a deal which will be better than the one they negotiate without one. An attorney who sees a client unrepresented on the day of trial knows that he has the advantage and will press that advantage to get his client the maximum they can without going to trial... or just press through and get the maximum they can at trial.

That being said, to date, the bag has saved my clients approximately collectively $15,000.00. One of these days, maybe I will just go in with it empty and see what happens.

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