We are gathered here to question...

We are gathered here today for the inaugural assembly for those who have been legally mugged, however lovingly and professionally, by a lawyer. Put your hands up those of you for whom this is a first meeting – having formerly been too shy, disaffected or confused to question the legal beagle’s billing system. Yes – quite a few singed fingers out there – goodness sir! Those look like third degree burns – I’d get those looked at if I were you. Now if you are a recipient of legal aid – then I’m afraid this meeting is not for you – we pick up your tabs one way or another as tax-payers and in most cases we’re all quite happy with that – although that may have to be looked at given the last few months of merry madness with the invoice slips by Chris Chomesky. But then Chris’s own lawyer said that everyone was doing it so he was hardly defending the moral high ground for his colleagues. The allegation that many lawyers were rorting the system upset the Lawyers’ Disciplinary Tribunal too – having suspended Mr. Chomesky they noted that his aspersions were ‘unsavoury’. I thought it interesting that they didn’t say that they were also incorrect. Still, we’re here to share your stories on the garden variety excesses you’ve experienced from the legal profession. Now I think it’s important to note right here that there are two lawyers whose advice I seek because they have a strong ethical base and are basically really good people. Having said that I’ve probably crossed about 10 lawyers in my life and so it is therefore safe to say based on extremely unscientific reasoning that it is only 80% of the profession that are giving the rest a bad name. Even Warren Brookbanks, a professor of Law at Auckland University said recently; “These days the law is seen more as a business, where the bottom line is that the firm should make a profit and operate as a business and with business ethics.” Now there’s an oxymoron - but what a business! I think what Warren was trying to say was that nowadays that the ranks of those practising law are less likely to be filled with seekers of social justice and far more likely to be occupied by greedy little hustlers but I could have got that wrong – sometimes it’s so hard to understand lawyers. Right. I think it’s only fair that I share first: Recently I got a bill for $1300 from a law firm for a very standard agreement. I had anticipated it would cost less than half of that so naturally I questioned it. “Does this invoice include the cocaine and dancing girls?” I asked. There was laughter. Then silence. ‘No. No cocaine or dancing girls.’ Mmm “Then can you break it down for me?” “I have. There was $10 for photocopying and $1300 for other stuff.” I see I said wincing. “So how much do you charge an hour?” “$350.00” he said. I gasped. ‘Is there a problem?’ he said. ‘No – no problem” I said, but thought privately: It’s just that no one has had me by my short and girlies in such a vice-like grip nor thrown me over a barrel quite so unapologetically in a while – this was just like being back in South America – just without the charm or good looks. I was scared to go and see him – what would a handshake cost? Without paying there was no paperwork –without the paperwork I could lose thousands. So I paid up. But the thing is, I actually do know a lawyer who charges $350 an hour and earns every bit of it. Apart from the flash office in Auckland and the high maintenance secretaries with the even higher skirts, he works for an oil company and does lightning fast legal footwork that’d make the Riverdance company look leaden footed. The risks and skill are huge. But a standard agreement? In Whangarei? Really? So hands up all you nurses, forestry workers and farmers - while you’re waiting to share your stories of your experiences of the legal profession – work out how long it takes you to earn $350 and see if you think that the excuse ‘everyone is doing it’ is not just a little bit rich?

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