Ul­ti­mately, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, Ir­ish peo­ple hate pay­ing fees

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

The very thought of end­ing up in court al­ways sent shivers down my spine. As a young wo­man, my most “ac­ci­den­tal” con­tra­ven­tions of law re­sulted in park­ing and speed­ing fines, “in­ad­ver­tently” driv­ing in a bus lane or un­con­sciously over­look­ing my mo­tor tax re­newal date, all led to a tear­ful part­ing of hard-earned cash.

The fear of a court­room, the mys­tery of le­gal fees, tak­ing days off work to at­tend a hear­ing — all of the above, aside from moral­ity, are enough to make me be­have. Nowa­days, my fear of the court­room has some­what abated, as I have to go in there as a devil. That’s where bar­ris­ters start; spend­ing two years shad­ow­ing a master and do­ing re­search, ap­pear­ing in court for men­tion or a mo­tion in front of the County Regis­trar or Master of the High Court. No fees guar­an­teed.

Some devils es­tab­lish them­selves with masters in the Crim­i­nal Courts of Jus­tice and gather fees if they are on their feet enough, €25 for an ap­pear­ance, €50 for a guilty plea and €67.50 for a hear­ing. When pay­ment is made is an­other ques­tion, it usu­ally takes months. The same ap­plies for ap­pear­ance on the Cir­cuit, with­out any re­im­burse­ment of mileage. It’s not ex­actly ex­or­bi­tant re­mu­ner­a­tion, con­sid­er­ing the years of study, part-time jobs, the univer­sity fees, the law li­brary fees, the for­mal clothes, the trans­port.

It is not sur­pris­ing that so many bar­ris­ters have had to leave the Bar to find work else­where. We are told it is at least five years be­fore a ba­sic in­come be­comes vi­able. Part-time work is not un­usual and pro-bono work is com­mon for bar- ris­ters. And yet, the re­sponse I got from a few peo­ple when I told them I was do­ing law, was gen­er­ally “are you mad, they are all rob­bers!” Even a well-known news­pa­per columnist de­clared at a pub­lic lec­ture I at­tended, that all “lawyers should be taken out and shot”. Clearly, some lit­i­gants have per­haps taken a gam­ble, didn’t win, and are very sore losers.

Un­like le­gal fees, when it comes to costs, there are some ar­eas I don’t un­der­stand, where I have no choice but to pay up. I phoned my car in­surer last week ask­ing about the 25pc rise in my pre­mium, I was in­formed of a new Govern­ment levy. The in­crease in pre­mium is not due to le­gal costs on claims, as is of­ten re­ported. The levy is en­tirely at­trib­ut­able to the ex­pen­sive life­style of the Quinn fam­ily. So, with­out your per­mis­sion, with­out your re­quest, you are pay­ing Sean Quinn’s le­gal fees and loss of in­vest­ment in a bank he gam­bled on.

The ne­ces­sity of le­gal fees is ap­par­ent to the gen­eral pub­lic, in house pur­chase, fam­ily law or pro­bate. Fees in those ar­eas can be clearly set out and agreed in ad­vance. When it comes to crim­i­nal is­sues, bar­ris­ters con­trib­ute to the funds for Free Le­gal Aid for those that find them­selves in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion, charged with break­ing the law, with­out suf­fi­cient means to de­fend them­selves. Isn’t it alarm­ing then when a well-paid TD seeks and is awarded Free Le­gal Aid?

In most cases, you will have a so­lic­i­tor’s fee at a rate for which you can bud­get. Un­less, of course, the mar­riage break-up, or the will is con­tested and an an­gry party de­cides they want their day in court. Even at that, cou­ples are en­cour­aged to have me­di­a­tion rather than take their case to court.

There is con­sis­tent pub­lic con­fu­sion between solic­i­tors and bar­ris­ters and the fee sys­tem. In straight­for­ward cases, con­sul­ta­tion with a so­lic­i­tor could be suf­fi­cient for ad­vice and they can seek a writ­ten le­gal opin­ion to as­sist your de­ci­sion on whether to take a case to court or not. Such a writ­ten opin­ion, cit­ing leg­is­la­tion and case law, can start at €150.

The best in any pro­fes­sion can suc­ceed fi­nan­cially from their hard work, build­ing their ex­per­tise and mak­ing smart in­vest­ments through pri­vate eq­uity — heart sur­geons, ortho­pe­dic sur­geons and ac­coun­tants are not crit­i­cised for their fees. They can have big houses, hol­i­day homes, etc, and their in­come is not ques­tioned.

Bar­ris­ters act for clients who need their ad­vo­cacy; the work, time and re­search, the com­plex­ity and nov­elty of cases is un­der­mined by what ap­pears to be a few hours on their feet in court. Emer­gency in­junc­tions re­quire week­end all-nighters, ju­di­cial re­views are heavy-loaded with re­search and pa­per­work, the moun­tain of pho­to­copy­ing is phe­nom­e­nal. I can at­test to that. There could be a min­i­mum of 10 peo­ple on a case in­clud­ing solic­i­tors, their trainees, bar­ris­ters and pupils — and only the pupil/devil is un­paid.

It was in the age of tri­bunals that pupils were at a great ad­van­tage if they were com­mis­sioned. The fees in tri­bunals are what have given the im­pres­sion of that all-round mas­sive in­come. At least, the Ir­ish art mar­ket did well out of the tri­bunal era.

Un­like other pro­fes­sions where you can de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with your con­sul­tant, mem­bers of the Bar are seen as aloof. It is part of the ethos to be in­de­pen­dent. One could be act­ing for the State one week and against the State the fol­low­ing week, ev­ery­thing is ar­gued on law. We are sole traders; most bar­ris­ters carry out their own work, with the as­sis­tance of a first or sec­ond-year devil. With the dif­fi­culty in mak­ing a liv­ing at the Bar, the devil pop­u­la­tion has dra­mat­i­cally de­creased in re­cent years.

Ul­ti­mately, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, Ir­ish peo­ple hate pay­ing fees. They are in­clined to think they can sort out is­sues them­selves, and re­sent hav­ing to con­sult an ex­pert for ad­vice, par­tic­u­larly le­gal ad­vice, which can go ei­ther way. Le­gal ad­vis­ers can pro­vide es­sen­tial ad­vice in dis­pute res­o­lu­tion, when it comes to set­tle­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions, avoid­ing pub­lic exposure in court. The al­ter­na­tives of me­di­a­tion and ar­bi­tra­tion are in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, and the fine-tuned abil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence of le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers bring, in my short ex­pe­ri­ence, re­lief to both sides.

So when you leave a bag of rub­bish out­side your house, un­tagged, or be­side a bot­tle bank, and end up in the District Court be­ing fined and pay­ing le­gal costs — think about the cost to the State, the waste of court time, and the de­lay in more im­por­tant hear­ings. Be­have!

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