Retiring from lawyering
I was most interested to read the article on the “retirement vortex” by Emily Morrow (LawTalk 858, 13 February 2015).
One of the good things about the profession is that one can work beyond “normal retirement age” (whatever that is these days), if one wants to, or in some cases for monetary reasons, has to. I am a case in point, having now reached 70 and am still working full-time in employment by the Community Law Service.
The key to me is that it is a job I love doing. No two days are the same, one never knows what issues will present, it is “grass roots stuff” (the way country general practice used to be, and perhaps still is in some small rural towns), and one can achieve social justice. In the eastern Bay of Plenty where I am based, there are a couple of lawyers still in practice who are older than me, which illustrates my point.
I have, in the past, been in private practice, but that no longer appeals, with the pressure of the “time sheet”.
I still have contemporaries in various areas who are still in private practice. Their common denominators seem to be the desire to retire, but the problems are finding a younger lawyer willing to take on being a principal (and I understand this does not appeal to quite a lot of younger lawyers – which in turn seems paradoxical considering the “oversupply” of younger lawyers being produced by the law schools). The other issue is the “tail liability” for claims relating to a period before their exit.
The “r” or “retirement” word indeed seems scary to a lot.
I think that one needs to bear in mind that there is “life beyond the law”. As we all know, there are many worthy community organisations that welcome volunteers, plus also there are no doubt part-time employment positions out there for people with legal skills.
Emily is to be congratulated for raising this issue. We have in the past seen articles about succession issues but these have tended to be more about what I might call the “technical aspects” rather than the “human dimension”.
I think we can all relate to the case of “Bill” the 65-year-old partner who has been resisting his partners’ efforts to “encourage” him to leave.
Emily Morrow’s article (Issue 858), “The Retirement Vortex” interested me as I consider retirement in the next few years. I can associate with many of the issues she covers, both from my own experience and observation of others’ experiences. I think there are some additional points that could be made:
There is the old saying, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Apart from the many benefits of having interests outside of the law while in full-time employment (such as making you a more rounded person, better connecting you with your community, and providing some relaxation and/or re-creation, etc), those interests can create opportunities for activities when you retire. In my case, I am involved in a number of community organisations which I can and will continue to be involved in when no longer working full-time, and I am also a choral singer and an active wood turner (I have plenty of wood to work on when I can spend more time doing this!) Developing those interests when working full-time gives you a running start – the activity (whether sporting, creative or whatever) is not all new, thus avoiding some of the frustrations of learning new skills, quite apart from being beneficial while working full-time.
For those who have not been able to spend time contributing to their community while working full-time, there are many not-for-profit organisations that would welcome retired lawyers able to assist with governance or even something simple which only requires a commitment of time and possibly modest money (my father, when he retired from legal practice, spent some years reading for the blind and delivering meals-on-wheels), and I recall a Hawke’s Bay District Court Judge who, on retirement, was a volunteer with a community advice service.
When I retire from full-time work I would like to continue to work part-time in an area about which I am passionate – societies and charities law. I can then choose whether to accept instructions or not, and I can prioritise between work and play.
Sense of self-worth
Emily mentioned “self identity” as a line in the vortex, and a lot of the issues around retirement seem to relate to how good people feel about themselves. If people have lived essentially self-centred or selfish lives, I suspect it’s hard to feel fulfilled when work stops. Just a few days ago I met a couple of elderly men I know slightly, and we got chatting. They volunteer for a local charity, and what they do may seem menial to some, but they fill their days “making a difference” – they have a purpose in their retired lives that does not relate to being paid but in the satisfaction that comes from being occupied and helping others. It seems to me that these two exemplify the fact that “selflessness” gives them that sense of self-worth that makes their lives meaningful and fulfilled.
I enjoy Emily’s articles, and this one was timely for me.
Mark Von Dadelzsen
I have recently read your article “Enduring power of attorney” by Sarah Clark in LawTalk 857 (30 January 2015) with reference to reviewing the legislation, in particular about the witnessing requirements where there are mutual appointments.
I am a practitioner who has had many dozens of powers of attorney signed over the years.
It would not only be simpler but it would also be cheaper to simplify the rules. The sometimes exorbitant legal costs of having powers of attorney independently witnessed of course has the counter-productive result of discouraging people from signing these things in the first place.
Apart from the mutual appointment of husband and wife or de facto partners, very frequently parents sign powers of attorney in favour of their children.
This can occur if children, who are generally by then middle aged, come to see us with the genuine intention of helping their parents who are frequently in their 80s and upwards.
Conversely a lot of people who consider they are getting too old to be attorneys for their spouse or partner initiate the instructions to have their children appointed.
More frequently than not general practitioners like me have had long-standing relationships with two or three generations of the one family and are in the best position to judge whether or not the donor is being protected or likely to be defrauded.
Incidentally, I have hardly ever seen a parent defrauded by a family member as opposed to the occasional situation where “hired help” contrive to get the confidence of elderly people and become their attorneys.
As a matter of practicality in a smaller town like Levin where I practise it is occasionally impossible, for example because of urgency, to follow the independent witnessing rules. I suspect the rules are frequently ignored.
It has been a matter of considerable frustration for the last number of years to the practitioners who actually prepare these documents and deal face-to-face with their clients that whoever amended the legislation did not consider the practicalities.
In effect, both our professional judgement and our obligation to our clients have been bypassed.
District Court rules
After three weeks’ holiday, I returned to the office refreshed, revitalised and ready to go.
Unfortunately the first piece of mail I opened was a letter from the new Central Processing unit, who process most civil Court proceedings in New Zealand.
I was advised that an application for judgment I had filed prior to Christmas would not be accepted for filing because the documents I had drafted did not have headings which complied with the new District Courts Rules.
After reading the rules and communicating with the Central Processing Unit, I was advised that no civil proceedings filed in any Court in New Zealand were being accepted for filing unless the heading (or the intituling) is included not only on the coversheet, but also on the top of the following page of each document.
Always willing to accept I am wrong, I checked the District Court rules for a rule that stated such unnecessary repetition of the intituing was necessary. I found no such rule other than that related specifically to Harassment Act proceedings, of which mine was not one. It is clear from the rules that all proceedings require the proper intituling, but nowhere is it stated in the rules that the intituling required on the cover page also needs to be repeated on the following page.
I therefore requested from the Central Processing Unit the purpose of requiring such repetition, just in case there was some reason why the repeated intituling was necessary to make the Court system more efficient and productive. I received no substantive response.
I am therefore left with the option of either redrafting all my documents to repeat the intituling on both the cover page and on the first page of the document, (including having to get an affidavit of service from an out of town agent re-sworn in order to comply) or filing an application and paying a $250 fee to have the registrar’s decision reviewed.
While I am tempted to take the second course of action, I am a sole practitioner with neither the time nor money to commit to this unnecessary task.
I therefore request that someone with more time and money than me, does challenge this absurd rule, or alternatively that someone with some clout in the Ministry puts a stop to this bureaucratic nonsense without us having to trouble a judge to make the obvious decision that documents do not require this unnecessary repetition of the intituling, in order to be acceptable for filing in the Court.
Note: The New Zealand Law Society’s Civil Litigation and Tribunals Committee is aware of the issue raised in this letter and has referred the matter to the Rules Committee for clarification.
Complaints against lawyers
According to NZLS President Mr Chris Moore (LawTalk 856, December 2014) the legal complaints system needs to be “… consumer focused and act reasonably and fairly towards consumers”.
In the same breath he acknowledges lawyers concerns that making a complaint is too easy. It seems to me the requirement to be fair and reasonable should also be applied toward lawyers confronted with complaints. While the complaints process need not be overly bureaucratic or complex, the current lack of any objective requirements for a complainant to achieve, such as some connection to the lawyer concerned, is a defect in the system, and unfair to practitioners.
To put my grouch into context consider the following. After three years I am still awaiting resolution of totally malicious complaint(s) against me – not by a client of mine but rather a client of another firm. In addition a friend of the complainant lodged a complaint. This fellow had no direct involvement in the matter but decided to throw his bit in for whatever reason. To round it off a fictitious character (as far as I have been able to determine) lodged a third complaint.
So, not consumers of my services, no constraints on the allegations, no need to prove bona fides and it seems no urgency to resolve. Yet I am faced with defending three outrageous and baseless complaints. My instructions to my lawyers were to require the complainants to prove their identities so that at least I knew my accusers, and if they actually existed. Seems that is not permitted. The ability to complain is too easy. No causal link between the complainant and the lawyer is required.
If the NZLS considers the status quo is a fair and equitable system for its members to have to abide by then perhaps an alternative organisation to represent lawyers is needed, one that is not so beholden to political correctness when it comes to protecting lawyers’ interests.
Other practitioners may recall it was an NZLS driven initiative, based on so-called consumer demand, to abolish our scale of fees in the early 1980s. To my knowledge some practitioners today are charging less for their services now than they were entitled to back then. The increase in overheads, the introduction of GST, and the increased value of assets since then, has been substantial. That consumer focused reform of the 1980s has done the profession no good at all as the net effect has been to greatly reduce the real income of most lawyers yet exponentially increase the liabilities confronting those same lawyers.
Turning to the consumer, the unwillingness of firms to undertake legal aid or do work pro bono, appears to be the trade-off for abolishing the scale. On the complaints process there is no trade-off for the lawyers and little for the consumer if the system does not command the respect of both sides.
It certainly does not have my respect and I doubt it ever will while it operates in the manner I have detailed. To my mind the matter needs to be revisited and a more equitable and justifiable regime developed.
New Zealand Law Society President Chris Moore replies:
I agree with Mr Gates that the requirement to be fair and reasonable should apply equally to consumers and lawyers facing a complaint. In that regard, the established process requires that all participants are afforded natural justice.
The present statutory requirements, particularly in the review process, have led to extended time frames for dealing with and determining complaints. We support present legislative changes to allow more flexibility for these processes which should lead to shorter time frames.
As you indicate, any person may complain about the conduct of a lawyer. In some situations, a complaint by a non-client may highlight a wider conduct concern requiring examination. However, it is also open to a lawyers standards committee to take no further action if the circumstances of a particular matter do not indicate cause for concern.
I agree with you that a complaints process which commands the respect of all participants is vital for the maintenance of the reputation of lawyers and for consumer protection and confidence. This balances the need to deal with unacceptable professional behaviour with a robust and flexible process without creating unreasonable hurdles for consumers. To that end, the Law Society is committed to striking an appropriate balance between public protection and the interests of the legal profession. In doing so, the Law Society is constantly reviewing its processes and listening to concerns when they are raised.
World’s largest firm
I didn’t get past the inside cover of LawTalk 858 (13 February 2015) before being compelled (yeah right) to write. I see Dentons are to be the largest firm in the World after partnering with Chinese firm Da Chung.
Perhaps the new firm should be called “Ca Ching”?
Note: According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the meaning of ka-ching in Chinese is: “Now it’s time to count up the profits. Ka-ching!”