Rule 1: Pay Your Attorney

By Jedidiah McKeehan

There is a great scene at the beginning of the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” where Matthew McConaughey’s character, Mickey Haller, is appearing in court on behalf of a criminal defendant who has not yet paid all of the money he owes to Haller.

Haller stands up in front of the judge and says something to the effect of, “Your Honor, we need a continuance because we are missing a witness, an essential witness, a Mr. Green (let me spell it out for you, he’s talking about money).”

The judge immediately gives Haller his continuance.

This scene happens in real life as well but it usually goes down a little bit differently and I have always heard it called a motion for continuance based on Rule 1.  Rule 1 being – the lawyer needs to be paid what they are owed.

Before I describe how it occurs in real life, first, let me say, it is absolutely unethical for a lawyer to continue a case if the continuance negatively affects their client’s case even if the lawyer has not been paid all of the money they are owed.

Normally, continuances requested because lawyer fees have not been completely paid occur in criminal cases. Criminal cases are usually being pushed along to the finish line by the prosecuting District Attorney’s office and the defendant and the defense attorney are often, but not always, throwing up any roadblocks they can think of to prolong the matter. So asking for a continuance is usually beneficial for a criminal defense client anyway (assuming they are not in jail), but a judge may not be inclined to give a continuance unless there is a good reason to do so.

Let me walk through a very realistic way a Rule 1 continuance could be requested.

Attorney: Your Honor, I am here on behalf of Mr. Smith today, but we are not quite ready to resolve this matter, I need a Rule 1 continuance.

Judge: Very well, how long does your client need?

Attorney: He says one month, but to be safe, can we make it two months, Your Honor?

Judge: Okay, see you in two months.  There will be no more continuances granted, we will be resolving your client’s case on that day, one way or another.

Attorney: Thank you, Your Honor.

So if you are sitting in a courtroom and you hear a lawyer request a continuance based on Rule 1, it means that the client has not yet paid the lawyer all of the fees they have agreed to pay them.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including personal injury, divorce and custody, criminal and landlord-tenant law. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for info.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login