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The Structure of Legal Work

Some legal work is simple and closed-ended: reviewing the papers for a real estate sale, drafting a will, or negotiating a settlement with a medical equipment vendor over an overcharge on office equipment. This work is frequently done for a fixed fee, sometimes with an hourly override for unexpected problems. Although the client must be careful to identify the services covered by the fixed fee, the client has fairly accurate information about the cost of the legal services and how long it will to take to complete them.

Most adversary legal work, including all but the simplest litigation, is open-ended as to both cost and duration. It tends to resemble a severe chronic illness like renal failure. The care of a patient with renal failure may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over a ten-year period. A physician who has his or her medical staff privileges terminated improperly may spend $200,000 over several years to contest the decision. The cost of legal services becomes dramatically higher than medical services only when the services involve complex commercial litigation.



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