I used to play golf with a lawyer who once said to me:
“The trouble with lawyers is that 99% of them give the rest of them a bad name.”
And we all know the answer to that other question:
What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?”
As many of you know….
As many of you know, I’ve been involved in four or five long years of legal battles against the organisation that purchased my dental practice in 2007 and then employed me to perform dentistry at that practice between 2007 and 2014.
In 2018 the Federal Court of Australia ruled that under the definitions of the relevant Superannuation Acts, the duties I had been performing for my employer were regarded to be labour and therefore I was eligible to receive superannuation that the employer/owner/purchaser had not paid me.
In 2019 my employer appealed to the Full Bench of the Federal Court, and was unsuccessful in having the Federal Court judgement overruled.
Following that, in February 2021, the employer sought Application for Leave To The High Court of Australia, the highest court of the land.
The High Court told them to rack off.
My defence, at the High Court, was not even called to present.
The High Court awarded costs.
In the previous Federal Court actions, costs are incurred by both parties and are not claimable from the other party.
However, in the High Court matter, the High Court directed that my legal costs for the High Court were to be reimbursed to me by my employer.
So my solicitor was in charge of collecting reimbursement for these expenses paid.
As you know, legal fees are expensive:
My legal fees for the High Court were in excess of sixty two thousand dollars. So you can see that I was keen to receive this money that I had outlaid back.
And back quickly.
So I received this email from my solicitors last week:
It arrived at 4:19pm on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
Subject: [Name of Law Firm] Tax Invoice
From: [Name of Personal assistant]
To: David Moffet; [Name of head lawyer]; [Name of lawyer 2]
[The attachment was here]
Sent on behalf of [Name of head lawyer] and [Name of lawyer 2] Our ref: XYZ:KLM:1234567 Re: Moffet; [Name of Employer] High Court Application
Dear David, Please find attached our tax invoice dated 30 June 2021 for professional services and disbursements for work performed to 30 June 2021. Details of the work undertaken are included in the tax invoice. In relation to your matter, we have now also received ….. three lines of blah blah blah Please contact us if you have any queries and we thank you for your instructions in this matter. Kind Regards [Name of Personal Assistant] Personal Assistant, Sydney Workplace Relations and Safety Group [law firm logo, address and disclaimer]
So what do you think happened?
As you can probably tell, I wasn’t impressed receiving yet another email from my lawyers with yet another bill considering the matter was in its final stages of being tidied up.
I read the email down to the line:
Details of the work undertaken are included in the tax invoice.
And then went back and opened the attachment [the invoice] to see the amount of $2097.00 had been incurred for the month of June.
My thoughts were….
Actually my immediate reaction was quite tame.
I muttered to myself:
“The gift that keeps on giving”
You see, the amount of superannuation owed to me, even including interest, was still significantly lower than the legal expenses I’d incurred in winning in the Federal Court hearings.
[And not putting a financial amount on the stress and emotional trauma of having to revisit the past regarding what was a relationship of “employer bullying”]
And the fact that we were into the fifth month following the High Court hearing and I was still out of pocket for the legal costs incurred there, was seriously sticking in my craw.
I don’t remember when exactly I opened that email and viewed the solicitor’s bill. I don’t usually do much desk work between Friday afternoon and Saturday night, as a rule.
I remember thinking:
“Yeah, I’ll get around to paying your bill…”
And then closing the email and walking away….
So I received this subsequent email from my solicitors yesterday:
It arrived at 5:29pm, again on a Friday afternoon ….
Subject: Your Claim and Payment of Your High Court Costs [Initials of Law Firm-Matter.FID87654321] From: [Name of Head Lawyer] To: David Moffet; [Name of lawyer 2]: [Name of personal assistant]
Hi David, I hope this email finds you well despite the lockdown. I wanted to check that you received [name of personal assistant]'s email below that asked for your bank account details so that we can arrange for a transfer to your account of the moneys we have received for legal costs in the successful High Court action. I confirm that we now hold the moneys in our trust account. I also had a call from the solicitor from [law firm acting for your employer] and he said that you'd called him in relation to payment of the costs. I've confirmed to him that we have the money and will arrange for the transfer to you. We look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards
[Name of Head Lawyer] Partner | etc
[law firm logo, address and disclaimer]
And attached below this was the email sent by the Personal Assistant the previous week.
When I read and re-read this second email….
When I read and re-read this second email, my blood boiled.
I had to go back and re-read the three lines of blah blah blah that I had skipped in the personal assistant’s email.
Those three lines read:
In relation to your matter, we have now also received a payment on account of the costs order to you in the High Court proceedings from [your employer’s solicitor]. Could you please send us your bank account details so we can ask our finance team to arrangement an appropriate EFT to your account?
What my law firm should have done is this:
Send two emails.
Send the first email with the good news:
Subject: We’ve received your money from [your employer]!!
And then ask where I wanted the money transferred.
Then send the second email with their bill.
But don’t put the good news that your customer has been waiting months for unannounced at the bottom of an email AFTER you’ve led with your invoice.
That just sucks.
Lawyer’s customers are human beings.
Some lawyers are not.
Does this get done in dental?
We hear similar faux pas on regularly on dental phones.
We hear team members answering the phones so intent on getting names into slots in their appointment schedule that they TOTALLY IGNORE the fact that there’s a real live human being with emotions on the other end of the phone having to deal with a whole lot more important stuff.
We heard this call:
“I need to make an appointment for my wife. She’s just finished chemo, and she’s now got four loose teeth that need to come out”
Dental team member:
“I don’t have anything available for six weeks.”
What she should have said was this:
What probably would have been a better response is this:
“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that. How’s your wife going? Is she OK?”
“How’s your wife going? Is she going to be OK?”
In this case the dental team member answering the phone was more concerned with what she didn’t have in her appointment schedule than the fact that she had a real life, life and death scenario on the other end of the phone.
The dental team member totally missed the point of truly connecting with the caller and showing compassion and empathy for their situation, and being able to offer that caller a “virtual hug” in a time of need.
I’d never expect a law firm to give me a “virtual hug”.
I’d never expect a law firm to give me a “virtual hug”.
I don’t think anyone would.
Lawyers have a reputation they need to live down to.
I’d have thought that putting money back into a client’s pocket before reaching into that same pocket for their pound of flesh would just be common decency.
Or common sense?
The problem with common sense is that it really isn’t all that common….
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