In July of 1988, a lawyer named Becky Klemt (above, pictured in 1990) of law firm Pence & MacMillan in Laramie, Wyoming, contacted several California attorneys and asked for assistance in collecting some outstanding child support on behalf of her client — a lady whose husband, the debtor, had recently moved to Los Angeles. Six weeks later, by which time numerous firms had turned down her offer, Klemt received a reply from an attorney named Mr. Stephen Corris in which he stated his astronomical fees whilst also declining.
Becky Klemt then replied to Corris with a letter that soon circulated law firms all over the world, was hailed a "masterpiece" by a judge, spawned an article in the Wall Street Journal (in which Mr. Corris was labelled the "butt of a thousand faxes"), saw her appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and, rather depressingly, provoked an offer from Penthouse to pose nude. She declined.
The entire exchange is below.
(Source: State Bar of Texas; Image of Becky Klemt in 1990 found in, and badly cropped by, The AGA Journal, 1990.)
July 19, 1988
Mr. Stephen G. Corris
Attorney at Law
Re: Broomell vs BroomeIl
Civil No. 16424
Dear Mr. Corris:
This firm obtained the enclosed Judgment against Defendant, Stephen H. Broomell, on June 4, 1987.
The Judgment remains only partially satisfied and there is due and owing as of this date principal and interest in the amount of $4,239.84. Interest accrues at the rate of $1.06 per day.
Would you please advise whether or not you would be interested in collecting on this Judgment and, if so, your fees for doing so. It's entirely possible that a letter from you to Mr. Broomell will be all that's needed.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan
August 8, 1988
Ms. Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan
Dear Ms. Klemt,
I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, but I have been in and out of the office for the past six weeks. Seems that there's never enough time.
I want to thank you for offering me the opportunity to collect the judgment on behalf of Ms. Marcia L. Broomell, but, I must decline.
Without sounding pretentious, my current retainer for cases is a flat $100,000, with an additional charge of $1,000 per hour. Since I specialize in international trade and geopolitical relations between the Middle East and Europe, my clientele is very unique and limited, and I am afraid I am unable to accept other work at this time.
I am enclosing the copy you sent of the judgment and again, Ms. Klemt, I thank you for your thoughts. It was very nice of you.
Stephen G. Corris
Laramie, Wyoming 82070
August 17, 1988
Stephen G. Corris, Esquire
Attorney of Law
Irvine, California 92715
I am in receipt of your letter to me dated August 8, 1988, regarding collection of a judgment against Stephen Broomell. Steve, I've got news — you can't say you charge a $100,000.00 retainer fee and an additional $1,000.00 an hour without sounding pretentious. It just can't be done. Especially when you're writing to someone in Laramie, Wyoming where you're considered pretentious if you wear socks to Court or drive anything fancier than a Ford Bronco. Hell, Steve, all the lawyers in Laramie, put together, don't charge $1,000.00 an hour.
Anyway, we were sitting around the office discussing your letter and decided that you had a good thing going. We doubt we could get away with charging $1,000.00 an hour in Laramie (where people are more inclined to barter with livestock than pay in cash), but we do believe we could join you in California, where evidently people can get away with just about anything. Therefore, the four lawyers in our firm intend to join you in the practice of international trade and geopolitical relations between the Middle East and Europe.
Now, Steve, you're probably thinking that we don't know anything about the Middle East and Europe, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. Paul Schierer is actually from the Middle East — he was raised outside of Chicago, Illinois, and although those national newsmen insist on calling Illinois the Midwest, to us, if it's between New York and the Missouri River, it's the Middle East.
Additionally, although I have never personally been to Europe myself, my sister just returned from a vacation there and told me lots about it, so I believe I would be of some help to you on that end of the negotiations. Hoke MacMillan has actually been there, although it was 15 years ago, so you might have to update him on recent geopolitical developments. Also, Hoke has applied to the Rotary Foreign Exchange Student Program for a 16-year old Swedish girl and believes she will be helpful in preparing him for trips abroad.
Another thing you should know, Steve, is that the firm has an extensive foreign language background, which I believe would be useful to you. Hoke took Latin in high school, although he hasn't used it much inasmuch as he did not become a pharmacist or a priest. Vonnie Nagel took high school German, while Paul has eaten in Italian restaurants. I, myself, majored in French in college, until I realized that probably wasn't the smartest career move in the world. I've forgotten such words as "international" and "geopolitical" (which I'm not too familiar with in English), but I can still hail a taxi or find a restroom, which might come in handy.
Steve, let us know when we should join you in California so that we can begin doing whatever it is you do. In anticipation of our move, we've all been practicing trying to say we charge $1,000.00 an hour with a straight face, but so far, we haven't been able to do it. I suspect it'll be easier once we actually reach California where I understand they charge $5,000,000 for one-bedroom condos and everybody (even poor people) drive Mercedes. Anyway, because I'll be new to the area of international trade and geopolitical relations, I'm thinking of only charging $500-$600 an hour to begin with. Will that be enough to meet our overhead?
I look forward to hearing from you before you go away again for six weeks.
Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan
P.S. Incidentally, we have advised our client of your hourly rate. She is willing to pay you $1,000.00 per hour to collect this judgment provided it doesn't take you more than four seconds.