Bad is Good – (Per-Diem Basics) By: Barry Seidel, Esq.
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Bad is good.
That's the driving force behind the lawyer service business that is a good portion of my practice. One might call it a "niche" practice. I don't feel so lofty about it, so I call it what it is, "Queens Court Appearances." I make appearances on behalf of other attorneys in the Queens County Courthouses.
This type of work is well known and becoming more so. Per-diem practices work because of a basic business truth: Success can be as simple as finding and filling a demand in the marketplace.
These appearances arise out of those portions of civil litigation where a court appearance is required, but the appearance can be delegated to an outside attorney who is not part of the firm. The per-diem attorney is essentially "of counsel," and involvement in the case is limited to the issues presented by the appearance.
In Supreme Court the typical appearances involve preliminary and compliance conferences, motions, and pre-trial conferences. Many of the appearances are "ministerial," but it is not uncommon to address substantive legal issues.
In Queens County (as in many State Courts) there is not only a high volume of cases and appearances, they are often scheduled at the same time, with the work done in a cramped, noisy hallway. Queens Supreme typically schedules 75 PCs and 75 CCs per day, plus 200 motions spread among 8 Judges in 8 different courtroom, plus 75 pre-trial conferences. Every day.
For many firms, it makes economic sense to pay a per-diem attorney to handle many (if not most) of these appearances. The travel and waiting around makes these appearances “bad business” for many firms. Queens has a lot of per-diem attorneys because it is a rough court: high volume, a long commute for many firms, unusual rules and procedures, and the sense that attorneys familiar with the scene can get things done more efficiently.
There are three basic business models for per-diem work, as follows:
1. Per-diem anywhere - as it sounds, you look for appearances anywhere a paying law firm client will send you. Kind of a tough go, but tempting to a lot of attorneys breaking into the business.
2. Per-diem agencies - These are attorney run agencies who book per-diem appearances and sub them out to other per-diem attorneys. They have to charge a bit more to make it make sense. They can't know local court practices so their intake can't be great. But, they can get things covered, especially appearances in off-beat locations. Also, even though they don't pay the per-diems very well, they are useful for people doing per-diem anywhere. This is because a lawyer doing per-diem anywhere can contact an agency and supplement their "anywhere" day with some agency appearances.
3. Per-diem in one County - I'm biased but clearly this is the best model for both the per-diem attorney and the law firm/customer. A per-diem based in one County can handle volume, and alert law firms to relevant local issues, and know the various court personnel and adversaries, and price their services competitively.
Here's a question for anyone thinking of doing per-diem work....what are the attorneys hiring per-diems looking for?
If you said "that you will do a competent and thorough job"... sorry, but this is a given.
If you said "that you will report the result right away"... sorry, this is a given.
If you said, "that you will price things right so it makes sense for them"... this is also a given.
What firms want, after assuming all the "givens" above, is that you will say YES to the assignment, so they don't have to keep calling around.
For more details about per-diem coverage in Queens Supreme, Civil and Surrogates Courts, please check out www.wecoverqueens.com Please do not hesitate to contact me directly for questions about doing per-diem work.
Barry Seidel, Esq.