Is professional courtesy Dead?
This is a selfish reply of sorts to the issue raised by Tristram Lock in June (LawTalk 867, 19 June 2015, p 36).
I am going to blow off some steam and really gripe about the newest issue I’m encountering whilst trying to do my job every day – professional courtesy.
I think it’s dead.
And if it isn’t dead, then it is very, very, VERY ill. Like, terminally ill …
When you consider that you will probably be working with your legal colleagues some 40-plus years, I would have thought that the minimum requirement in a letter sent on behalf of a client would be – common courtesy. No blustering, threatening or posturing, which might impress your client, but does nothing for long-term relationships with other lawyers.
It might be that I am ‘old school’? The old days where professionalism showed in every communication you had with your legal colleagues. “Manners maketh the man or woman,” I was always taught. Civility is free and reflects the speaker. Perhaps the new generation coming out of our universities believes rude letters get results – not with me, they don’t.
Everything in the article relating to open and transparent billing published in LawTalk 867 (19 June 2015, pp34-35) was on the mark and a timely reminder to us all.
It is ironic, however, that the example of the tax invoice used concerned a conveyancing matter – the purchase of “2 Rainbow Warrior Drive”. The bullet point detailing in the invoice showed a considerable amount of work on this transaction including explaining the LIM report, negotiations with the other party, liaison with the bank, along with the other normal aspects of conveyancing.
The irony is that the fee shown was $1,000.00 plus GST, a fee on which many firms would be struggling to cover costs let alone make a reasonable profit. The commoditisation of increasingly complex conveyancing work has, in the main, not been met with a unified or active response from the profession. One admires the real estate industry, the members of which have been much stronger and more business-like in that regard.
Around 1980 an average house sale would have been around $40,000. A real estate commission would have been (at a then lower percentage rate) in the order of $1,200. I recall an admittedly time-intensive first home purchase in the days of family benefit capitalisation which incurred a legal fee not too far short of that mark.
Today the real estate commission on a similar property would be around $15,000 whereas the legal fee is only modestly in advance of 35 years ago.
As an aside, the 1981 “Little Red Book” scale of professional fees for conveyancers would, if in force today, price a $1.35 million Mt Eden Villa conveyance at a minimum of $1,746.00 – again not too far away from 2015 levels.
Clearly our profession is not the only business with endemic price degradation, yet the picture painted is graphic! We continue to undervalue our services to clients when dealing with increasingly valuable properties and often with more complexity.