27 May CB8. My personal history as a Principal Lawyer
The legal profession suits some and not others. The downside is there is plenty of reading and research work, and many issues remain opaque or unclear until the end of the matter. The upside is the work is usually interesting, is different everyday in the office, and a lawyer can often feel the work done has added value to the client.
- At the second-year anniversary of Comasters Law Firm, I was no longer operating from a serviced office.
- Comasters operated from an office suite on Level 2 in a Hunter Street, Sydney building – on top of a Big 4 Bank. My staff members included another lawyer and paralegals.
- I would say that the legal profession suits me; or suits my personality and interests. I like to talk (and I also like to listen). I realise I am not a chemistry or biology person – so the medical or dental profession would not suit me. But I like the science of computer technology and the digital economy. Computers save us time, contribute to, and enrich our lives.
- In setting up Comasters, I engaged an accountant friend to prepare my firm’s trust accounting books – he was thorough in his work. He became my trust accountant checker or inspector for several years – ie to sign off for the Law Society of NSW Trust accounting section.
- Like the accountant, I too am thorough. I would always cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s in my work. And I am organised – which is akin to my middle name. Some would say I am meticulous.
- In the early years, I collected volumes of legal precedents and filed them away carefully, knowing how to reach them in a few minutes, if not a few seconds. I put in place a system of work in the office that is nine times, if not ten times more efficient than my previous place of employment, with minimal upfront costs. Largely based on Bill Gates’ Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel platforms, I could churn out standard letterheads, standard invoices, and standard many other work sheets including accounting ones.
- I admit some of the techniques put in place were based on what I have learnt from working in a Big 4 accounting firm, a Big 4 bank, and a medium size law firm. Of course, I have put in my own speciality and tweaks to the system.
- At that early stage, I had already started to use computer power to the max. Unlike my father who had to buy boxes and more boxes of goods, store them in a warehouse, and then sell; my business needed none of that – there is no stock per se. I only needed my pen, my pencil, a photocopier, a fax machine, a calculator, lots of Reflex A4 papers and a really good computer (and a few more similar computers for my staff members).
- Some would say the cost of doing business is low for lawyers. I put a caveat to that.
- Apart from a doctor gynaecologist, a solicitor (lawyer) of the Supreme Court of New South Wales pays excruciatingly high ‘professional indemnity insurance’ premium for conducting a law firm, particularly at that time.
- As at 1 July each year, I am behind by about $20,000.00 even before I have my first client matter for the new financial year. That amount was for ‘professional indemnity insurance’ premium alone.
- The United States of America is the most litigious country in the world. Australia is second.
- We lawyers like to sue one another, full stop, hence the high ‘professional indemnity insurance’ premiums. It is easy to get sued by the client if one has made a mistake or has been negligent.
- The implication of the work that a lawyer does can lead to damages in the millions of dollars, so there is a need to be extra careful in our work.
- Putting in place the Comasters system of doing work is like putting a patent together. It is unique and could be patented for ten years.
- The idea is to minimise on administrative work in the office and make more time for client work.
- The first few years made me put on trial a few methods and then adopt the best from actual practice.
- With the sound Comasters system in operation, the concentration would then be doing actual legal work that would make my clients gratified. A lawyer like me would be ‘exposed’ to a variety of people. I would say, I have seen and met with all types of people from Type A to Type Z. A doctor psychiatrist would meet with patients who seek help with issues of the mind and other medicos, so they would be exposed to people from Type K to Type Z. A lawyer like me would meet and talk with clients who seek help in all kinds of matters – being everyday issues – from buying a house; doing business with partners; suing someone for $250,000.00; divorcing someone; doing a Will; to defending a criminal allegation of fraud.
- In many matters, I would meet with the other side, ie the opposition of my client – the people whom I would have to negotiate with. Some of these other sides would have a lawyer to represent them and then the lawyer would deal with me; or people who have not lawyered up would deal with me directly.
- Further, I would deal with third parties, such as the banks, the government authorities and of course the courts – local, district, supreme and high.
- Every individual is different.
- To make an assertion to each of these different parties could be challenging to say the least. Lawyers are good letter writers, so I do a lot of that, to get my message across. It could be a kind letter or a very demanding one (called Letter of Demand).
- I of course also use verbal techniques over the phone or in person. One can have a certain tone in letter writing, but you would have a much clearer tone in your speech!
- To convince, to persuade and to make things happen are what my clients pay me for. Of course, I also give advice to my clients on the law. I would give my opinion on how the law affects the facts of my client’s case. At times, I would take the facts on board, do some legal research and get back to my client. If the matter is very complex, I would seek a second opinion from a lawyer specialised in the area of law (usually a barrister).
- As a lawyer, I have stood up in court, examined witnesses and cross-examined other witnesses – the kind of legal work most often portrayed in TV shows and in the movies. This work is actually only 20% of the total work of a litigation matter. The other 80% is paperwork – preparing the Statement of Claim (or the Defence), preparing Affidavits, and preparing various other court documents. Even if I engage a barrister to do court work for me, I find that my law firm is still doing 50% to 75% of the paperwork!
- The practice of law involves keeping up with what is happening in the world. The world is a fascinating place and every new day is a nice one. I do what is asked of me as a lawyer and a little more in some community work – to try to make the world an even better place.
© Comasters June 2020.