Lawyer's book shows how to avoid lawyers

August 25, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

JAMES KRAMON gets a slight twinkle in his eye when he tells about his experience as an assistant U.S. attorney.

"One of my responsibilities was prosecuting lawyers," Kramon said, not bothering to conceal the smile on his face. "I hold my colleagues to high standards."

So you figure this Kramon guy is not your ordinary lawyer. He delighted in prosecuting other attorneys and now, as if that weren't enough, he's written a book about his profession. What's it called?

Why, You Don't Need a Lawyer, of course. How's that for unbridled chutzpah?

"For many matters, you don't need a lawyer," he said while seated behind a desk in his Old Court Road office. "I wanted to explain why that's the case."

Kramon speaks as one with 30 years' experience as an attorney. He has two law degrees: one from George Washington University and a master of law degree from Harvard. He spent four years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore, where he moved from Chicago. There, he was a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In 1975, he started the law firm of Kramon and Graham with his partner, Andrew Jay Graham. He has taught courses at the law schools of the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland at Baltimore. He has written more than 50 articles on legal matters.

So Kramon took all that experience and crammed it into a 256-page book on why you, a layperson, might not need his, or any other lawyer's, services.

And the secret, believe it or not, lies not in a knowledge of the law, but in how to write an effective letter.

So if you paid attention to that high school English teacher you figured was a pain in the neck, Kramon's book might save you some money.

"Lawyers show people how to write letters that work," he said. "Some things in a layman's letter are as effective as a lawyer's letter. And a bad letter from a lawyer is worse than a bad letter from a layman."

So what kinds of problems are best handled by letters, not lawyers? Let's say you move from an apartment and the landlord fails to return your security deposit. Kramon recommends you write something like this:

"I moved out of my apartment in your building ... and you still have not returned my security deposit. I spoke with your agent about this. ... It has now been a month since I moved out of the apartment. ... You have violated the terms of the lease, which reads `the balance of said security deposit shall be returned to tenant in full, together with interest, upon expiration of the term of this Lease and vacation of the apartment.' I do not intend to wait longer than one week from today to receive this money. If I do not get it, I will take appropriate legal action."

Kramon has more than 80 such letters in his book, covering such areas as health care, how to deal with government agencies, schools, banks, landlords and employers. The letters have two things in common. All are examples of letters Kramon has actually seen as a lawyer. And all of them got results.

"My experience was on the receiving end of the issue," Kramon said. "That is, my clients received the letters of complaint." After perusing the letter, Kramon was able to tell his client if the writer was a chump or meant business.

"There are certain letters," Kramon continued, "where you tell your client, `She's serious.' "

Kramon advises readers what to put in those letters and, just as important, what to leave out. He was inspired to write the book after several people he had written letters for urged him to take on the project.

The first thing Kramon did was write a manuscript, which took about three months. That was the easy part, he said, because "I had most of the legwork available to me."

His next task was finding an agent. Then he decided on a publisher and went with Workman in New York. Soon, Kramon had a paperbound book that he says "you can get in just about any bookstore" and sells for $14.95.

Besides the prompting of clients and friends, Kramon had another reason for writing You Don't Need a Lawyer. It's the contempt these days that businesses and institutions have for the individual.

"I very much resent this emerging climate of treating everyone as if he or she is irrelevant," Kramon said. "I wanted to give people the power to get a response."

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