Friday, March 26, 2010

Wanna Get Rich? Become a Lawyer!

That's the lesson from a couple of articles in the Irish Independent today:

Exhibit no. 1: 'Legal fees still among highest in world':
IRISH lawyers are still able to charge some of the highest legal fees in the world simply "because they can".

This is despite the fact that there are large numbers of recently graduated barristers and solicitors out of work.
A Competition Authority board member told the Dail Public Accounts committee there had been no end to the restrictive practices, such as lack of fee information, restricted entry to the profession and limited competition between lawyers. Mr Purcell also said solicitors had the right to hold on to their clients' files, even if that client decided to transfer to another solicitor.
"There's no other profession in the world I know of where that is the case. That's inevitably going to lead to higher costs for the person paying the piper," he added.
A report by the World Bank last year found that legal fees in Ireland were among the highest in the developed world.

The article also discusses the government's proposal to appoint a Legal Services Ombudsman funded by the legal profession. But this person will have no powers to investigate complaints, only to tell the Law Society and Bar Council to speed up their inquiries or to review their decisions again.

I'm not making this up. Monty Python couldn't have scripted it better. An Ombudsman to tell the professional bodies to "speed up their inquiries or to review their decsions again"?!

Exhibit no. 2: 'State fails to pursue €1m paid to lawyers in error':  THE State has taken no action to recover €1m which was overpaid to two tribunal lawyers due to a typing error.

The PAC's chairman, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, said taxpayers had been "milked on this one". He contrasted the failure to recover the overpayment of €1m with what would happen to someone on social welfare who was overpaid €20.

The typing error was discovered shortly after a fax was sent to the lawyers agreeing the fee.

Although the Department of Finance sought to fix the mistake, the Attorney General's office informed them that the higher rate would have to apply.
Both Mr Coughlan and Mr Healy have earned more than €8.5m in fees each for their work with the tribunal, which was set up in 1997 to investigate payments to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, as well as the awarding of the second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone.
Mr Coughlan, for example, was paid for working 304 days in 2008 even though the tribunal has only held an average of 20 days of public sittings for each of the last three years.
Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack requested a copy of the advice on maintaining the €2,500-a-day fees from the director general of the Attorney General's office, Liam O'Daly, but was told it was confidential.

I wonder what legal theory allows the lawyers to retain excess fees clearly paid in error. This would have probably violated ethics rules in jurisdictions like the U.S. Perhaps Irish professional responsibility rules are more generous.