Hard Times

     “If you bring your lunch five days a week, you’ll save $2,000 a year!”
     
     I heard the above the other day on a TV – at a gas station above my pump. I’ve often wondered why anyone thought there was a need for entertainment during those interminable gas-pumping sessions.
     Shouldn’t we be taking the opportunity for meditation when filling up? Aren’t gas stations meant to be a place for rejuvenation and the refilling of both mind and car?
     But maybe entertainment at the pump isn’t the intent of those TVs.
     After all, that lunch advice was downright educational.
     I could save some serious money by brown-bagging it. And, of course, reusing the brown bag.
     Naturally, I had to analyze this.
     To save $2,000 a year, you’d have to spend approximately $7.70 less per weekday. So the assumption is that non-brown bag lunches cost $7.70 plus the cost of what’s in those bags.
     That means all you have to do is calculate how much you’re spending on lunch, subtract $7.70, and use that amount to pay for what goes into your brown bag. The more you’ve been spending, the easier it will be to save.
     It’s always easier to cut back if you’ve been excessive in the first place. (Note: the macroeconomic correlative of this is that you don’t get a bailout unless you’ve made bad decisions in the first place. Life can be strangely consistent sometimes.)
     Normally, we wouldn’t be thinking about things like this, but the economic times are tough and we’re seeing more and more interesting (or depressing) effects. One that has piqued a lot of interest (around here, anyway) is a proposed class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles against a major law firm for charging clients too much for online research.
     The suit says that “as part of its standard corporate custom, policy and practice, (the plaintiff) was overcharged and billed for computerized legal research and information retrieval in excess of the actual cost incurred by defendant for this legal service.”
     Attached to the complaint was a recent bill from the firm for the period from Oct. 1, 2004 through May 2005 that included $11,938.77 for reproduction (I’m really hoping they mean copying) and $20,191.64 for “information retrieval/computerized legal research.”
     Yes, $12K for copying is fine but $20K for research must be excessive.
     There isn’t any indication in the complaint of how the plaintiff and/or his lawyer decided that the research didn’t cost that much, but it seems to me that they’re missing a point here. You’ve got to feed the monkeys and maintain the robots that do all that research. Buying the research isn’t the only cost.
     Besides, the information could have been retrieved from the North Pole or a secret vault in the Vatican. Did you think of that?
     What we’re seeing here is the beginning of two new recession-era trends.
     The first is litigation over charges.
     The second is creative charging.
     After all, law firms, like everyone else, need to bolster the bottom line. They’ve got to be more productive. The way to do this is to provide as many services as possible to your clients.
     When a stressed-out client brings in a problem, don’t just offer to sue. Offer a nice massage and a soothing drink.
     Or at least come up with more plausible line items on those bills.
     How about $9,456 for makeup and courtroom wardrobe?
     It’s not overcharging if it’s for something you need.

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