I have fielded numerous calls from concerned clients this week about the outrageous and unjustified punishments dished out by the Law Society to a couple of Auckland-based lawyers.
On Monday Eion Castles was struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors, and the following day it was the turn of Richard Holland.
Mr Castles was struck off for charging a client nearly $600,000 in legal fees. Castles ended up charging $1,030,000 for a job a Law Society cost assessor determined should have cost no more than $436,000.
I don’t pay too much attention to Law Society rules and regulations, because I’m a busy man and I don’t have time for all that bureaucracy. Ethics and standards are the sorts of things that sound nice in theory, but when you get busy they just slow down your work.
So I was horrified to learn that the Law Society has the power to take a man’s livelihood away, just because he charges a wee bit more for a job than he ought to.
And who hasn’t done the same thing? Name for me a single lawyer who can say hand on heart that he or she hasn’t knowingly overcharged their client by hundreds of thousands of dollars, even as the combined weight of their legal bills sends the poor client into penury. I’ve lost count of the number of elderly clients I’ve sent to an early grave through my imaginative billing practices. The great thing about hounding these people to their deaths is that you get a second crack at their money when you handle the administration of their deceased estate.
It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong, putting aside issues of morality and basic decency, and ignoring for a moment all professional standards and certain sections of the Crimes Act. Besides, innocent until proven guilty, it’s only a crime if you’re caught, possession is nine-tenths of the law, caveat emptor, and nemo dat quod non habet. That’s all the Latin I remember from my law school days. I have no idea what that last one means, but I always quote it when an irate client queries my bill.
The other fellow struck off, Richard Holland, apparently misappropriated thousands of dollars belonging to his clients, but again I’m failing to see the harm. It’s called a trust account for a reason. Trust me, I tell my clients. It’s a sure bet. I’ll pay the money back with interest after Ruby Red wins the 3:40 at Te Rapa. Shouldn’t the lawyer-client relationship be based on trust? Most of my clients don’t even know how much money they have invested with me, so they’re hardly going to miss the odd fifty thousand dollars. They come into my office with their suitcases full of cash, and I take care of it for them.
But these developments are causing my clients distress. They see the news headlines proclaiming the striking off of two Auckland lawyers, and it’s only natural that they think of me. “Is my money safe, Harry?” they ask me. “How much do the cops know? You haven’t told them about the little problem we disposed of in the Waitakere Ranges, have you?”
It’s no good that the two disgraced lawyers are clearly named in the news reports. Just between you and me (I can tell you this, right? You’re not wearing a wire, are you?), I may have been known by a few other names in the past. But let me be very clear about one thing: I have never stolen the identity of another person. Not once. I only ever borrowed, and I always discarded the identity whenever it looked as if the authorities might be closing in. Unlike a well-known former Member of Parliament, I would never be stupid enough to use a dead child’s identity and then be caught. No, I’ve never been caught.
So when a client sees the name Eion Castles or Richard Holland in the newspaper, it’s only natural that some of them will think “Is that one of Harry’s aliases? Did they get the dirty corrupt bastard at last?” You can imagine the distress this is causing my clients, not to mention the harm to my business. I’m a hard-working businessman, and I have financial commitments to meet. Like paying off the Russian mafia and funding my cocaine habit. And now some of the girls are threatening to work for someone else unless I let them keep a larger share of the money they earn for me.
That’s why I have decided to make a stand against the Law Society. I am going to demand that they include a disclaimer in all future press releases concerning disciplinary proceedings against lawyers. I want them to state clearly in each release that the lawyer named as being censured, fined or struck off is in no way related to me, and is not one of my numerous aliases.
And to the news media: do me a favour, will you? My clients and I send a lot of business your way through the classifieds, so grant me this one boon. When a story about a crooked lawyer comes along, how about a headline that reads: “Struck off lawyer is not Harry Hindenberg”?