Saturday, July 06, 2013

Liar, Liar, Lawyer, Lawyer

If there's one thing I can't stand its a hypocrite. Especially one that bills his client at R1,000 per hour, without telling them. Its devious and dishonest. What makes it worse is that the message I asked him to pass on to his client was ignored, even though the billable time was not. That's just plain unethical, not to mention rude. Frankly, I was expecting it, but at the same time it came as a shock.
What gets me even more is that the lawyer in question has never been on the receiving end of a trial, unless you count the academic exercises they do at law school. Even then, he would have acted on behalf of a "client". He has never had the trauma of being personally accused of all kinds of bad things, and being told to pay up or go to court. On the other hand, I have been told to pay R 461,000 by a different lawyer who couldn't add, and incorrectly totaled up the amounts to a mere R 1,525,000 instead. This arrogant bastard lawyer never apologized, nor corrected his mistake. He just didn't care, because most greedy lawyers are too busy handling too many cases, and not paying proper attention to any of them. He clearly didn't think he owed me any kind of explanation for his incompetence.
How can lawyers get away with that kind of "mistake"? It's easy: they lie. They lie on behalf of the client, and when they are in the court room the lawyers are not under oath, only the witnesses. So they can lie on behalf of the client and get away with it. The sad thing is that they lie to their own clients, and bill them for it.
I am following a matter in the Magistrates Court. The Plaintiff has filed two summonses, each suing for money, but each providing different amounts of money. The Plaintiff herself hasn't signed either document, but instead they have been issued by two different sets of law firms. So who is lying? The Plaintiff, or the law firm(s)? Has the Plaintiff even seen the details of the summons? Who knows? What I do know is that the Defendants have received both versions, and made the initial mistake of hiring a lawyer to defend them. He did such a bad job that they eventually fired him, but only after having to pay him over R3,000. Now they are defending themselves.
The matter has dragged on for 18 months or so, and they still are waiting for their opportunity to sort out the matter and make it go away. The plaintiff won't listen to reason, and her lawyer will listen to anyone who will talk to him, provided he can bill the client for the privilege. Of course he doesn't care what I said to him, and didn't pass it on to his client. Arrogance costs R1000 per hour. So does incompetence.
While I am friends with several lawyers, and know them to be honest and ethical, the same can't be said for their colleagues. So my default opinion is that all lawyers are overloaded with work, can't pay any of their cases the attention that their clients deserve, and are either unethical or dishonest or both.
In my first case in 1986, I was represented by Howard Varney (Attorney) and Chris Nicholson (Advocate) from the Legal Resources Centre in Durban. It was a review case in the Free State Provincial High Court, and while I didn't win on all points, I gained a sufficient ruling to prevent the SADF from arresting me or forcing me to be a conscript. Both men have gone on to have distinguished careers. I couldn't pay for this representation, but had to do all the paperwork, affidavits and the like. They supervised and made sure that only the important points were argued, and the minor ones ignored. I am most grateful for their time and expertise, and I learnt a lot.
My second case was a shot out of the blue a few years ago. I was sued for defamation, and nearly landed up having to defend myself in the Gauteng High Court. I chose not to have a lawyer, and it was only when I could talk to the Plaintiff without their lawyer screwing things up that we managed to settle the issue, to the satisfaction and benefit of both parties. He was the guy who couldn't add. That stressful case lasted for about 8 weeks, during which time I lost a lot of sleep and around 10kg.
Being involved in a lawsuit is like playing chess by postcard. A lot of nothing happens, except that as the defendant you end up doing a lot of worrying. In the fist case I worried about whether I could survive 6 years in jail. In the second case I worried about how I would ever be able to pay R 461,000 plus my bond, plus their legal fees. I just hoped it would never come to that. In both cases I was fortunate.
It is now my firm belief that I will rather handle my own legal matters, and call on lawyers for advice, but not representation.