• January 13, 2016


I am often critical of our justice system because it is too expensive to be useful for most legal disputes that most Americans have, day to day. I do not keep track of the number of people who come to me with serious problems (such as a property dispute, a business dispute, or other serious and troubling issues) whom I essentially dissuade from vindicating their rights because the cost will exceed any recovery. It is a frequent part of my practice. A general rule of thumb, in my opinion, is that a lawyer will have a very difficult time recovering more than $10,000 for a client who is unwilling to pay attorneys’ fees and costs of at least $10,000. Sometimes people and businesses want to vindicate rights and are willing to pay more than they will recover, of course. Often, however, litigants start litigation with such a determination but then get worn down and remorseful as the legal bills and bothers accumulate.

A decision this week from the Minnesota Court of Appeals got my attention because, in a landlord tenant dispute with apparently substantially less than $10,000 in dispute, the tenants, through a lawyer, were able to prevail against a landlord. The landlord’s lawyer, in turn, was able to defend against the claims to have some of the damages awarded reduced; the Court of Appeals held that some of the awarded damages were too speculative.

We cannot know whether one or both sides paid their lawyers more money to bring or defend the case than was at stake. But I note that both sides were represented by solo lawyers, typically some of the least expensive lawyers around. We can at least hope that this “value” segment of the bar continues to give average citizens a shot at achieving judicial resolution of small but significant disputes.

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