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Cape Attorney

18 September 2008

He writes:

"Dear Editor,

I have read this article [Another Appeal] with great interest but also with on-going concern and depredation.

Why always compare ourselves and our fees to those of other service providers that we deal with? We will never change their fee structures as they are determined largely by the powers prevailing at any time in the market place.

I am still amazed at how stupid and helpless we (the whole attorney fraternity in SA) act and conduct ourselves and our businesses (not to be called practices!).

I have been practising as an attorney for the past 10 years on a full-time basis, but have also had business interests for the past 20 odd years. I thus have the advantage or rather the privilege of not looking at my profession (and practice) from a puristic-juristic approach, but first and foremost from a business man's perspective. And it is both with pity and shock that I have to witness everyday for at least the past 10 years how we allow ourselves and our profession to be misused and pushed around: other people pry our traditional work away from under our noses on a daily basis - work that we are profoundly more capable to execute very professionally and much better than most due to our high level of education and experience with as jurists - just think of wills and estates, estate and trust planning and administration, auctioneering, administration of liquidation and sequestrations, drafting of contracts, debt collection, administrations, etcetera. It is not only our work that is taken away, but also our clients and valuable additional income that would actually make the difference between just making a living and actually earning a professional income as attorneys should.

In the world of conveyancing the banks, agents, mortgage originators and others load additional work on our shoulders and we are not being paid any additional fee for that - and on top of it all they want to dictate to us what our conveyancing fees should be. In the debates and minds of the aforementioned organisations, little or no recognition is given for our professionalism, our qualifications and expertise or the risk and responsibility we bear in executing the work.

Just look at the pathetic situation with regard to the tariffs of costs which have not been revised for years! How can we just sit still and accept it? We at least owed it to the successful clients in court cases to have insisted on market related tariffs. The proposed increase currently under discussion is also far under the realities of costs and fair professional remuneration.

We need to change ourselves and the way we think, work and conduct ourselves and we must also affect change in the market place and by this I mean we need to change ourselves and the people's perception of what and who attorneys are and what they do! It is of little use if we change ourselves and our operations, but the market out there is not informed and actively convinced. We need to change the perception of the broad public, the banks, the estate agents, the sellers, the purchasers, our own and prospective clients, the Road Accident Fund, the government, etcetera, etcetera. We not only need to regain the respect and trust we need to conduct our work, we need to make ourselves valuable to people out there to the extent that we again become indispensable! And it is not enough to just work hard and act with integrity and honesty and sincerity - I know as I have been doing it for 10 hard years! We need to stand together and come forth with a comprehensive on-going strategy of:

  • Marketing and public relations,
  • Negotiating with banks, estate agents, mortgage originators, the governmental bodies and other key players,
  • Assistance to all attorneys (big and small) all over the country to ensure a national campaign,
  • Institute actions to retain (and regain) the work for which we all studied and are qualified to do,
  • Fight for fair and proper remuneration.
- all in endeavour to foster acceptance and recognition of the significance and vital contribution of our work and our profession (and our proper fees!).

If, some cohesive action is not taken in the very near future I foresee that the attorney will become even more endangered and alienated and dwindle under the pressures of the market forces, ever-increasing operating costs and other people preying our work and our professionalism from us.

It is time that we all unite and I call upon all attorneys, big and small, and also the various law societies to take the first 'giant leap' for all attorneys, otherwise each of us will all be slogging on with individual 'small steps'."

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