Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tax My Clients ... Please!

In an effort to meet a $5.4 billion budget shortfall, the Wisconsin legislature is considering a tax on services, including legal services.  And with just about every state suffering from similar fiscal woes, this might be the wave of the future.  And I couldn't be happier about it!  This is just the opportunity that we've been waiting for!  Let me explain.

As you know, sales taxes aren't imposed on the seller.  They are imposed on the buyer.  Likewise, a tax on legal services won't be borne by attorneys.  It will be borne by our clients.  We will simply add an entry on the bill adding an additional 5% (or whatever the tax rate will be).  But here's the good part ... A tax line will provide us the perfect opportunity to add a gratuity line as well.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "A gratuity?  For legal services?  That's unprofessional!"  Says who?

Think about it.  Just about every other service provider in America is accepting tips these days, even those who provide very little (if anything) in the way of service.  For example, several times a week, I tip a taxi driver for driving recklessly in circles through the streets of his city while talking on a cell phone, smoking a cigarette and listening to what I can only guess is called "music" in his land of native origin.

And, by comparison, tipping the cab driver seems reasonable because he only insists on ripping me off once.  At the hotel, they charge me a room service charge plus an 18% gratuity and still have the nerve to include a gratuity line, just in case I feel that paying $32.95 for a cheeseburger and Diet Coke is too much of a bargain.

As lawyers, we actually provide real service to our clients.  We ... we ... we ... Well, I'll get back to you on this one.  Besides, what's service got to do with it ... got to do with it?  Most people have a Pavlovian response to gratuities.  They simply multiply the tax line by 2 or 3 and add it as a tip, regardless of whether the service was good, bad or nonexistent.  And since we will be spending thousands of dollars in unearned tips over the next year, we might as well earn a few.  After all, as the old expression goes: "If you can't beat 'em (and in the case of my last cab driver, I really want to), join him."

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