Mention the cosmetic brand L’Oreal and the response will be ‘because you’re worth it’ – the billion dollar brand’s strapline. Mention lawyers’ exorbitant fees and the lawyers (but no one else) will also say ‘because we’re worth it’. But they’re not. The often outrageous levels of legal fees is a major business cost, one that seems to have been forever on the Government’s reform list (ha ha, remember that?) but one that their lobby groups have successfully blocked.
Follow the money
Law and the legal process is an essential part of business whether creating contracts, sorting out leases or handling insurance disputes. ISME members pay millions and millions of Euro each year to the legal profession, a cost that eventually ends up costing the consumer money. If you want to know why we pay more for our cornflakes or our cars in this country just follow the money.
Embarrassed or envious?
Of course there are many decent solicitors who work hard and are very fair to their clients. However, as in many other professions, there are those who take the proverbial Michael – and in doing so give the entire legal body a seriously, seriously bad name. It’s hard to know if the ‘decent lawyers’ are embarrassed or envious of the fees some of their number manage to charge. Whichever it is, it’s one profession that needs the biggest (and longest promised by the Government) shake up to bring some reality into how much they charge.
Former lawyer Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns was very, very gentle in the High Court last week when he said that lawyers cannot make “comfortable assumptions” about legal fees remaining at the levels payable before the recession. He said fees should realistically reflect the effect of the “financial and economic catastrophe” on many citizens.
Lawyer wants ten weeks’ minimum wage for one days work.
At stake, according to the Irish Times, was a legal fee of €485,000, based on €375 an hour, sought by Wicklow solicitors Augustus Cullen Law in a medical negligence case. These lawyers, well qualified to be sure, thought they deserved to earn more in one hour than a person on the minimum wage does in a week. The senior counsel on the case went one (or several ones) better. On top of the €125,000 brief fee he sought he also wanted a daily rate of €3,500. Put another way he wanted to earn roughly the same in a day as a person on the minimum wage can do in ten weeks.
Closed shop sells ‘closeds’
To the average ISME member these figures are shocking. This is all part of a big circle. Legal fees have to be paid for by businesses – an insurance company in this particular case. Business has to pass these costs on – making life for the Ordinary Joe even more expensive. And why? Because lawyers, and only lawyers, think they’re worth it.
Oh, and because we have a government that thinks a closed shop sells ‘closeds’.