Legal fees can be as messy as an Anna Nicole paternity lawsuit, but when we uncovered the top legal aid earners in New Zealand, we felt constrained in the interests of fairness to the taxpayers of New Zealand to see how single barristers in a
legal aid set-up that has been oft criticized for being under resourced (translation: not enough money) could see a take in almost a million dollars each over 12 months. How many hours do these heroes put in on behalf of the disadvantaged and dispossessed?
In the case of Auckland barrister Charl Hirschfeld, who handles Maori land claims, to his very great credit, he responded to our email with a keenness that displayed a high level of application to the legal aid issue-at-hand. The boys and girls over at his Jamaica Chambers are having a rum old time. No question.
Then, lo and behold, we received a strangely written follow up that seemed destined for Charl’s inbox but was forwarded to ours as well, along with every other barrister in Jamaica Chambers. Are we ‘pricks’ for uncovering this? Of course we are. But ‘jealous’ of legal aid barristers? Never. We know money doesn’t grow on trees.
Go read. (The questions he responds to are ours).
From Charl Hirschfeld:
“To answer your questions:
First, what was the work for? Criminal and Treaty of Waitangi work mainly.
Second, how much was paid for fee earners other than yourself? Five full time barristers, one part time barrister, one legal provider who is not a lawyer
Third, how much was paid for experts etc? This figure I do not readily have at hand.
Fourth, what hourly rate do you charge the taxpayer for your work? I am paid between usually $130 and $165 per hour depending on the type of work with an average of about $140 to $150 per hour overall. I am the senior member of chambers having been a legal practitioner since 1984. The other barristers are paid according to their seniority which usually means a base rate of $120 per hour. The legal provider is paid at $75 per hour. Disbursements constitute a significant part of the gross figure (published).
For argument’s sake, if you paid $300k for experts (very generous, we believe) you’re down to $636K. Let’s say you have a junior working for you and you pay him/her $100K, you’re left with $536K. There are 365 days in a year (at last count) and we’re not worried about leap years etc for these purposes. We believe the most you would make for a day in Court at the taxpayers’ expense would be $1K, but let’s be generous and call it $1,240, which if our maths is correct is the maximum legal aid rate of $155 per hour, including GST, times 8 hours). Let’s divid $536,000 by $1,240 which equals . . let’s see . . 432!
We’re confused. Can you explain? You need to understand that I didn’t earn this money by myself (see above) and you have to take account of disbursements (see above).
I should say, my name appears on the list of legal aid earners because I am a barrister. My name must appear because I am the lead provider of legal services for services performed by seven people. If I were a solicitor, I could use a firm name, in which case people seeing the legal aid figures would have no idea if it were one or ten people behind the firm name. In my case I am stuck with people thinking that somehow ‘Charl Hirschfeld earns all that money’ when in fact Charl Hirschfeld does not. I hope you will publish this explanation and disabuse your readers just as I have now disabused you.
From Tavake Afeaki
“Kia ora Tuakana,
If pressed you might like to advise that we were recently audited by the LSA, who were “more than satisfied with the level and quality of services provided and the recording and reporting standards were exemplary”.
However, I suppose we do not really want to invite a further Official Information Act request to LSA about our bits & pieces now do we. So let the little jealous prick go and play with your revelations. His publication had better be on point and clear, as there are legal remedies available for factually incorrect and/or misleading journalism…..
Noho kaha mai”