Legal fees sanctioned by State are ridiculous


There is no reason why the State should pay any lawyer more than €150,000 a year, writes VINCENT BROWNE

LESS THAN two weeks ago, on Friday, July 6th, the High Court agreed the freezing orders on the accounts of members of the family of Seán Quinn could be varied to allow €430,000 be paid to meet the family’s legal fees from May to July of this year.

The total fees for this three- month period came to €430,000, and of this, €135,000 was to be paid to a solicitor’s firm for 485 hours worked over six weeks, from May 12th to June 29th.

According to an Irish Times report of July 7th, those fees were based on hourly rates of €370 per partner, €282 for senior solicitors, €227 for solicitors and €97 for trainee solicitors. Further provision was made for the solicitors to be paid an additional sum up to €150,000 (net of VAT) for further work from this July up to early August.

Two senior counsel were each to be paid a brief fee of €20,000 plus “refreshers” of €4,000 per day.

A junior counsel was to be paid a brief fee of €12,500 with “refreshers” of €2,500 per day.

The two senior counsel who represented Seán Quinn snr, Seán Quinn jnr and Peter Darragh Quinn on June 26th, when judgment was delivered in contempt proceedings, were to get €3,000 each for that day.

Both senior counsel were to get another €4,000 each for representing the Quinns on June 29th, when the High Court made various coercive orders sought by the bank. Senior counsel and junior counsel were to get additional payments for work up to July 20th next.

The Irish Times reported that in relation to the bank’s bid for an order withdrawing reference of a jurisdictional issue to the European Court of Justice, the Quinns’ senior counsel brief fee was €10,000, while junior counsel’s brief fee was €6,000.

Because the funds from which these fees were to be paid are funds which, very probably, will become due to the State, it is us, the Irish people, who are paying these legal fees at a time when 450,000 people are living on the dole and hundreds of thousands are living on the minimum wage of €8.65 per hour.

By what criteria are barristers who sit in a court for perhaps a half an hour listening to a brief summary of a written judgment about to be distributed and a few brief applications and responses plus a conferral with their clients for, say, a further hour, entitled to a fee of €4,000 each for this ordeal? Admittedly they have to read the judgment, which would take them a further hour, say, but still?

What is this brief fee of €20,000? Is it likely that a senior counsel would have to spend a full week reading a brief and conferring with solicitors and clients? Say two weeks, €10,000 a week, or even three weeks at €6,666 a week? Who do they think they are – RTÉ radio/television presenters?

And as for the solicitors: hourly rates of €370 per partner, €282 for senior solicitors, €227 for solicitors and €97 for trainee solicitors. By what criteria is that justified? Forty-two times the minimum wage? Yes, we know, there are attendant costs – secretarial, office costs, plush car, important international conferences conveniently held in plush resorts (up-skilling?) – but come on, €370 per hour?

And by the way, this is by no means the worst in solicitors’ practices – one firm, with which unfortunately I am acquainted, were charging €450 an hour a few years ago, and I suspect the harsh realities of the recession have not bit at all.

At the Moriarty tribunal, nine lawyers, composing three senior counsel, a junior counsel and legal researchers, earned an average of €3.76 million each over the period of the tribunal’s 14-year existence. The three senior counsel made €25 million between them, an average of €595,238 each per year, which, in fairness to the three, is just about the going rate for top-notch senior counsel in private practice.

It is true many barristers earn a fraction of this – one I know of earns less than the minimum wage at present. But the cost to the State and to the public of legal fees generally is outrageous and the fact that other professions, notably medical consultants, accountants/auditors and others are even worse is also outrageous.

The primary culprit in all this is not the greed that infuses the legal profession, but the State – although legal greed is quite a factor. The State is by far the major client of the legal profession, and it sets the going rate.

It was the State, via the defunct Anglo Irish Bank now owned by the State, that agreed to the ridiculous fees paid to the lawyers of the Quinn family two weeks ago. It was the State that agreed the fees at the tribunals.

So, I have a proposal.

I can see no reason why anybody in the legal profession would be paid by the State at a rate more than €150,000 per annum. Assuming a 40-hour week and a 47-week year, this works out at about €80 per hour, plus modest allowances for costs. For barristers this might work out at about €120 per hour at most and for solicitors, somewhat higher, say about €160.

Ditto for medical consultants, accountants/auditors and others in the rip-off professions.

But will that happen?

No way!

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