Jim Calloway is the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Management Assistance Program. He manages the OBA-NET, the member's official online community, and the OBA Solo and Small Firm Conference. Before working for the OBA he practiced law for 16 years in Norman and South Oklahoma City. Mr. Calloway writes and speaks on a variety of topics including law office management and organization, technology, and ethics. He also writes the Law Practice Tips blog.
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Below is a short selection of the interview with JIm Calloway. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law.
KEK: Why is getting paid such a challenge for attorneys, even back then and now?
JC: Well, it’s just a part of the American culture, I think. We have an enormous amount of people, even people with a lot of assets who live paycheck to paycheck. They may have a month’s savings or something like that but they pretty much live paycheck to paycheck and so anything, whether it’s a transmission on their car exploding or some uninsured crisis in their home, or an uninsured medical bill, anything that happens that costs you know, several thousand dollars just doesn’t fit well into their budget. And so, most legal items are unexpected and expensive. Some of them like criminal matters, I tease my friend the bondsman that the bondsmen get to them first and get all the available cash to get them out of jail and then they don’t have anything left over to pay the lawyer. People in Oklahoma are very good, decent, and honest people for the most part, I don’t think that it’s that they don’t want to pay but they just can’t and then there are a whole lot of people a little bit lower on the economic spectrum, my heart just goes out to them because they literally lurch from crisis to crisis to crisis. And you are just one of those crises. I remember very well the gentleman who had an incredible number of legal problems who actually signed up for and made the fifty dollar a month payment plan for years and years and years. And when he would get close to getting it paid off he would have another legal crisis and while I should have taken a new retainer from him for doing the new work I would just extend his fifty dollars a month. But the thing for young lawyers to understand is the reason why I remember that is he was about the only one. People would say they would pay you monthly and they will for a couple of months, but as I tell lawyers now and I’m very much harder on it now than I was in my practice, if they won’t pay you now when they have this huge unresolved crisis in front of them, how are they going to pay you or why are they going to pay you when you’ve taken care of their crisis? This is their time of most motivation so you just have to, but there are times, in the old days, when I was first practicing there was always a grandmother or relative or somebody they could go borrow at least half the money from, and now there are whole segments of people that nobody has any money, none of their friends have any money, none of their relatives have any money and yet those people deserve your representation. Sometimes it didn’t bother me, sometimes it did, it usually depended on how my life was going at the time.