Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kill the Billable Hour

Great post over at Forbes by a top attorney for one of the largest most prestigious firms in the world. The subject? How the time-tested, age-old law practice standby, the billable hour, must be eliminated.

This is a topic we've been kicking back and forth at Jarboe & Stoermer for some time now. The problems with billable hours are legion, but just to name two off the top: first, that there is something fundamentally unfair about charging the same rate for sending an email or checking my schedule on behalf of a client, as we do arguing a motion in court. Why should both activities -- the latter of which is the product of the cumulative weight of years of practice and skill, and the former which could be done by any fool with a keyboard and an internet connection -- be charged at exactly the same rate?

For another objection, the overhead and lack of productivity that trying to keep track of time builds in is highly counterproductive. Some estimate that tracking billable hours adds a non-productivity cost of up to 10% to any given work product. (I actually think it a bit higher.)

Anyway, here's the article: read it and see for yourself - Kill the Billable Hour

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Collecting from the Dead

A recent New York Times Business article points out a growing area for debt collections: collecting from the relatives of the recently deceased. (New York Times March 3, 2009 article: "Your Dead? That Won't Stop the Collector")

I'm not kidding. Yes, they will actually call up the grieving relatives and ask for money.

Never mind the fact that the surviving relatives don't actually OWE their loved one's debts. And, never mind the fact that they don't actually ADVISE the survivors of this lack of legal obligation. They still hold their hands out, waiting for you to make a "payment arrangement".

If you're being harassed by debt collectors, give me a call. I'd be happy to help you sort out what you do owe, from what you don't.

Ben Callicoat
Jarboe & Stoermer PC
(918) 582-6131

You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector

Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

At DCM, Brenda Edwards, a collector, on a call.

Published: March 3, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS — The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.

Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.

The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.

“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill. He promised to pay $15 a month.

Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.

Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country’s 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.

New hires at DCM train for three weeks in what the company calls “empathic active listening,” which mixes the comforting air of a funeral director with the nonjudgmental tones of a friend. The new employees learn to use such anger-deflecting phrases as “If I hear you correctly, you’d like...”

“You get to be the person who cares,” the training manager, Autumn Boomgaarden, told a class of four new hires.

For some relatives, paying is pragmatic. The law varies from state to state, but generally survivors are not required to pay a dead relative’s bills from their own assets. In theory, however, collection agencies could go after any property inherited from the deceased.

But sentiment also plays a large role, the agencies say. Some relatives are loyal to the credit card or bank in question. Some feel a strong sense of morality, that all debts should be paid. Most of all, people feel they are honoring the wishes of their loved ones.

Read the rest of the article: Here


Member, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys