Will the Citizen have access to the legal profession? Not if the Big Corporations have any say about it!
I qualified as a solicitor in 1980. I had no connections in law at all and if it wasn’t for the endeavours of my late father, I couldn’t have pursued my legal studies. He worked hard to provide me with an education and without him and the support of my mother, I’d never have succeeded.
For the previous couple of years or so before qualifying, I had been influenced by Inge Clissmann and Aedan McGovern, both barristers and now Senior Counsel. Inge had got me involved with FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres which was run by law students who represented in Court, members of the public who couldn’t afford access to justice. Inge introduced me to the Ballymun Centre located in the basement of Padraig Pearse Tower, long since demolished. There we mainly dealt with family law issues and quite simply, we were overrun with the work. Overrun and indeed overawed. It has left an indelible impression upon me to this day. With little or nothing, the parents we dealt with, raised their families in the most trying of circumstances. At the end of the night, after seeing all those needing help, Inge would insist we retired to the Towers Pub to have a drink, one drink, so as to encourage those we had met to see that we were no different from them and could empathise with them. She was all too aware that lawyers were thought of as elitist and she was doing her part in showing everyone that we were not. She also was teaching us students about our social responsibilities and would not tolerate any bullshit from us. She encouraged talk and discussion and left her mark on us. I subsequently took over as Director of FLAC in Ballymun some time later. They were hard times but certainly gave us law students a social conscience which remains with us to this day. All this happened before our Government were forced to bring in Civil Legal Aid. During my career I have had the pleasure to act for those who ‘couldn’t afford a lawyer’. Pro bono work as it is now referred to.
The other influence on my career was my late father. While he was one of the ‘bosses’ in British Railways he was a solid Trade Unionist. He was also a devoted Roman Catholic with a great social conscience. He worked hard to look after us but instilled in me an outlook where people came first. It’s probably because of his example, that at an early stage after qualifying, I made a decision to not act for Banks or Insurance Companies because I could not identify with the Profit at the expense of People dictate. I found many of their dealings with people to be disgusting and abhorrent. To this day my attitude has not changed.
I was lucky enough to be practising when the Competition Authority actions enabled solicitors to advertise. I took out a full-page in Golden Pages, advertising my Personal Injury Law Firm as well as having regular adverts air on RTE Radio. My firm expanded and I must say, I was delighted with the pro-people stance we took. We were a plaintiff firm, never acting for the defendant Insurance Companies. We were attacking the anti-people establishment and winning. Many other firms followed suit and people were being represented on a no-win no-fee basis. What other way could people access the law? This continued, or should I say was allowed to continue for only a moment in time. The Law Society among other interested groups were unhappy and pressurised the Government into making changes. Subsequently PIAB was formed to be a ‘lawyer free zone’ and were mandated with looking after all the injury cases from now on. Thankfully after come Court cases it is no longer a ‘lawyer-free’ zone but the setting up of The ‘Injuries Board’ has depleted the work carried out by High Street Solicitors, whose clients were people, not corporations. At the same time, the Law Society tightened up their advertising regulations and I was personally instructed to not call Early & Baldwin a Personal Injury Law Firm as this was ‘encouraging’ claims. And we are to this day prohibited from advertising that personal injury law is what we do. All this was done by the State in the interests of injured people we were told. Do not believe a word of it. For once, the lawyers who acted for the working man and woman were bringing their cases to Court and accessing ‘Justice’ for them. The Insurance lobby is very powerful, not unlike the Banks. They have great influence over Government, unlike the citizen who has little or no influence.
Currently there is outrage regarding the amounts the Insurance Industry are charging for renewal of motor policies. Us lawyers are of course being blamed by the Industry but many commentators are challenging this assertion. Remember that cases were heard before Juries until Government was lobbied by the Insurers who said that people could not be trusted. Then we had cases heard by Judges alone. This continued until the Insurance Industry said that Judges were awarding too much. Judges were halted and the Injuries Board was put in place to replace them. Now it’s only possible for your case to be heard before a Judge, if you’ve rejected the award made by the Injuries Board. All this change has been lobbied for and achieved by the Insurance Industry for their own benefit, not for the citizen. In fact the changes in the law were designed to deny the citizen access to the law by taking the high street solicitor out of the equation. Meanwhile the Big Law Firms still represent the Insurance Industry is all their guises. All this ‘reform’ of the law should be taken with a grain of salt. What had been achieved by young enthusiastic lawyers in getting access to the law for the ordinary man and woman, has now in effect been severely curtailed. This is quite alarming, but maybe not surprising. With the Corporation Tax obscenities and the control of Government by the Bankers, this is the logical conclusion. In future, they would hope, that access to the law was not for the ordinary citizen but solely the preserve of Big Law for their corporate clientelle.
LegalEagleStar Friday , 23rd. September, 2016
In Ireland today, we are constantly being told that ‘The Recovery’ is happening. No longer are the dark days of The Troika, IMF upon us. Well, those that I work with and indeed our many clients don’t seem to be experiencing ‘The Recovery’. Of course we at Early & Baldwin do not act for Big Business nor corporate giants. That is by choice I can assure you ! We act for the man in the street, the local painter, electrician, carpenter, shopkeeper, chemist and suchlike. We know them personally. We know their children, take an interest in their education and achievements. That is who we are. We are this by choice. We decided over 30 Years ago that we would not act for any Banks or Insurance Companies. We found their principles to be immoral and profit centred and not people we wanted to be associated with. It was a brave choice. Many say foolhardy. We wanted to act for the ‘little guy’ suffering at the hands of the ‘Big Guys’. Maybe a little melodramatic but I think you get my drift. I got very angry a couple of years back while listening to Newstalk one morning and hearing a solicitor being interviewed about how the recession had affected his business. He came out with how he hadn’t suffered at all. All that happening was he started to take work from the Banks and he felt that he was now acting for a ‘better class of client’. I nearly crashed the car when I heard him.
These days our clients are from a wide geographic area but more and more we seem to be promoting our neighbours. They are the guys and gals we meet with on the street on a daily basis. Others live nearby and call in, so to speak ,whenever they need a bit of advice or suffered some injury. We’ve seen many purchase their family homes and most have gone on to have a family and work hard to pay the bills. Of course we are there when tragedy strikes and a loved one dies. To support the family at such a time is part of our business. Maybe the Big Corporate firms don’t act this way but we do. We know these people. They are our clients and our neighbours.
With the onset of the so-called ‘Recession’ and the immoral ‘bail-out’ of the Banks, many of these good people have been hit terribly by the cruel ‘Austerity’ policies pursued by our Governments. These people are suffering. Many who had good and what we called steady jobs, are now being hit with zero-hour contracts and other such abominations. People are suffering. Local businesses are suffering. No longer can people return home to spend quality time with their families without pressure from the banks and others chasing them for late or missed payments on their mortgages and other such payments. While we hear such stories on a daily basis, we have come to the conclusion that we all have to stand together and help each other. There is a major divide in society today. The ‘Recovery’ seems to be enriching the Rich by taking from the poor and most vulnerable in our society. The scandal of home repossessions continue and the resulting homelessness experienced by way too many, is a blight on our society. Children going to school hungry is like something my late father used to speak about, of the ‘Hungry 30s’. That always seemed a distant memory for him but today sadly, it’s a reality.
Lets all stand together and look out for each other. Use the services of the local tradesmen, butchers, corner shop and other local businesses that employ local people who we all know and love. Only by helping ourselves and trading with our neighbours do you and me have any chance of survival.
Well, I’m told summer arrives this weekend. So, cheer up as the sun is around the corner. Stay Safe people and remember … Shop Local.
LegalEagleStar , Thursday , 26th May , 2016.
As a long-time practitioner of Family Law, there are moments which stick in your mind, for one reason or another. Many years back, noting I’m qualified over 35 years, I was involved in a very sad Child Custody case.
My client, the husband, had separated from his wife when their only child, a beautiful daughter, was very young. She was now eight years old. He had moved abroad for work and his daughter lived with him since she was a baby. The wife unfortunately had suffered for many years from depression and on occasions, was institutionalised. They still kept in touch and from time to time, he travelled back so that his wife could spend some time with her daughter.
Unfortunately, on one such visit home, the family of his estranged spouse decided to pressurize the child’s mother into hiding the child and when he arrived to collect her at 6pm as agreed, neither the wife nor his daughter could be found. He was traumatized and the next day arrived at my office to instruct me in the case. We wasted no time in issuing proceedings and made an emergency application to the Court to have the matter dealt with. Our investigations had revealed the location of both the mother and child.
On the morning of the hearing, evidence was heard by the learned Judge who decided to that an early date for hearing was warranted and listed the case to come back before him in 5 weeks time. This was agreeable, although inconvenient for my client as he had to inform his employers, who thankfully, were accommodating. The matter of access was discussed and the Judge then decided that he was giving the father No Access, despite the fact that the child lived full-time with him ; that he had sole custody ; and the mother was not a fit person to look after the child, due to her recurring illness. It was her family that had in fact assumed custody of the child, not her. Needless to say we were infuriated with the Judges decision. Despite our endeavours there was no moving him. I then stood up and angrily stormed out of Court followed closely by my client. I was horrified when he asked me was it usual for a Judge to tell a solicitor to F Off ! Needless to say I was horrified as I had not heard the remark. I took a deep breath, composed myself and both myself and counsel headed straight up to the High Court and informed the presiding Judge of what had happened, bar the comment. He wisely ordered daily access for my client from midday until 6pm until the case was heard.
When the case finally came back before the aforementioned Judge, he shouted out ‘Who appealed my Order ?’ Then he took a look at me and said ‘You, huh, doesn’t surprise me.’ He then went on to hear the case in full and rightly returned the child into the custody of the father. When we exited the courtroom the wife let out a cry which brought tears to my eyes. Regardless of the fact that justice was served that day, Child Custody cases are traumatic, not only for the parties involved, but also for the lawyers.
LegalEagleStar Tuesday 3rd. November 2015.
I qualified as a Solicitor in 1980. At that time, cases were heard before a Judge and Jury. Following strong lobbying from the Insurance Industry, Juries in personal injury cases were abolished. The Insurance Industry lobbyists thought that with cases being heard by Judges alone, that awards would be reduced. This in turn would help to boost the vast profits in the industry. I remember going before the Courts when the Michaelmas term commenced, fearing that my clients would suffer loss as a result of the interference in the Court System by such a strong lobby. As it turned out, Mr Justice Hamilton, in the High Court in Dublin sat on the first few cases and in fact doubled the awards that had been heretofore been awarded. A 12 month whiplash injury which up until then we could expect the sum of 15,000 Irish Punts, he awarded 30,000 ! Other Judges followed his lead. The Courts decided that in fact, Juries were not particularly generous and that awards needed to be raised in order for the injured parties to receive the appropriate compensation for their injuries.
Let us jump ahead in time to the introduction by the Irish Government of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. This State Board would in fact replace the Courts. They would decide on what was fit and proper compensation. As the Large Insurance Companies had the ear of the Government Ministers, they felt that the Judges could not be trusted. This Scheme was introduced as a ‘Lawyer Free Zone’. They were taking the whole Personal Injury area from the hands of what they termed the ‘greedy lawyers’. Thankfully, following a successful challenge in the Courts, they had to relinquish on this point. Nonetheless, it is mandatory to press all cases into PIAB. You then wait for many months until your case is decided on. This is a closed Government System. It is only when an award is made, or indeed the case ‘released’ by The Injuries Board, that you are in a position to bring your case before the Courts.
Back in 1980, lawyers were banned from advertising. The norm was for an injured person to present themselves at the offices of the Insurance Company they had a claim against. You literally went in the front door and took a ticket and remained in line until your number was reached. You then had to fight to have them deal with your case. Many visits later you’d most likely be worn down and take whatever they offered you, in order to bring an end to this stressful situation. In the last 1980’s, following pressure from the Restrictive Practices Commission, advertising by lawyers was permitted. Much to the disgust, I can recall, of the Law Society, who regulate the Solicitors Profession. I was one of the first solicitors to embrace this advertising, by Radio, TV, Golden Pages and other legitimate means. This resulted in injured clients calling us at Early & Baldwin. Our caseload increased. Clients no longer queued up, took a ticket and waited. We looked after them from the moment they called us. There was a seismic change in the way injured people were treated. This freedom to advertise, coupled with the compensation that Judges were awarding, ensured that people were justly rewarded.
Needless to say, the Insurance Industry were not happy with developments. There followed a new Act to curb advertising by solicitors. No longer could you promote yourself as a personal injury lawyer nor indeed ‘encourage’ people to pursue their claims. This would be deemed an offence which the solicitor would find himself/herself in deep water with the Law Society. So today, we have restrictions on advertising by Personal Injury Solicitors, coupled with a State body, The Injuries Board deciding on awards. Now, the Insurance Industry are happy. You’d never know it of course, as they conceal their massive profits and complain still about ‘fraudulent claims and suchlike. Let’s be clear about it. No solicitor will knowingly take on a fraudulent case. This is a criminal matter. The use of the term by the Insurance Industry is for one thing and one thing only. That is, to scare people into not pursuing their legitimate claims.
We at Early & Baldwin believe that as lawyers, we represent our clients to the best of our ability and despite the restrictions imposed at the behest of the Insurance Companies, it is our belief that our clients deserve Respect and Justice and we will continue to demand it on their behalf. While we are not alone amongst our profession in holding these views, we urge all solicitors involved in working with plaintiff claimants to demand the same for their clients. Don’t accept anything less as all our clients deserve as much.
LegalEagleStar, Tuesday 28th. July 2015
Yesterday on Twitter I received the following Tweet ….
I replied ….
@thesecondgoing Mass Civil Disobedience !
As a lawyer, I have been criticised by many, in particular fellow lawyers, regarding the stance I’ve taken with regard to the Right2Water Campaign. This is a Citizen led Movement which has arisen as a result of the Irish Governments attempt to privatize our water, regardless of how hollow the rejection of this claim is, by the Elites who run this country. I have taken to the streets and marched Shoulder to Shoulder with my fellow Citizens and am proud to do so. While many people cannot afford to pay the proposed charges being imposed on us, a lot can. Luckily I am one of those that can. There is a principle at stake here. Austerity measures dictated by the IMF, the European Central Bank and others and imposed on the Irish People in order to pay the gambling debts of the Elites, their Bankers and Speculators are, in my opinion, immoral. Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay are what the banners say. They could read Can Pay, Won’t Pay and they would be as correct. People have said ‘Enough is enough’. The question is, am I correct in advocating a Don’t Pay policy?
I have read a lot about Civil Disobedience. Is it morally, if not legally correct? I came across the following…
I am inclined to agree with Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the American Declaration of Independence (1776). Justice, surely has to play a role in our thinking. As lawyers we are trained to use the law to benefit our fellow citizens. When the law is unjust, we try to use the legal system to protect our clients. Our Courts on a regular basis try to mitigate the harshness of the law and find an interpretation which protects the citizen. What about when one political ideology in power attempts to subjugate the citizens to their point of view? We are told that we live in a democracy and the will of the people is demonstrated by the Ballot Box. In 2011 the Irish People Voted for Change. They ousted the Fianna Fail Government and replaced them with the two parties that advocated change, namely Fine Gael and The Irish Labour Party. While in opposition and prior to the General Election, both of these Parties talked the talk but as it turned out, they did not walk the walk and indeed the Irish People were subjected to the same policies that the previous hated Government had implemented. Sadly, even more austerity was heaped on the citizen. The most vulnerable in society, the young, the old, sick and the poor were particularly targeted by the ruthless implementation of austerity. People suffered as a result and indeed are still suffering to this very day. The new government claim that they were given a mandate by the people and are refusing to relinquish power. They say they intend to stay the full course. Is this democracy in action?
Democracy… government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. So in theory that is what we have.
While we’re deemed a Democratic State why are people in Ireland today so discontent? Something is wrong. They are not being listen to. Despite marching on the streets to demonstrate their opposition they are being fobbed off with our Government playing politics. Those in power are, in my opinion, not following an agenda on behalf of the citizens who voted them in. Instead they are following the dictates of the EU and other like-minded institutions whose agenda is somewhat different. Perhaps something is fundamentally wrong ….
While I have quoted from a Justice of the American Supreme Court, I feel that the same is equally relevant in the Irish context. The Irish Government panders to the will of those with great wealth to the detriment of the citizen, thus sadly creating a sub-class in our society, to which the vast majority now belong.
Photograph: Matthew Cooper/PA
It’s to be noted that lawyers have headed protest against injustice in many countries throughout the world. They have led the people. In Ireland today, it appears that we only hit the headlines when huge fees are concerned. This is unfair. I recognise those firms who act for the Elites but the vast majority of the legal profession are of the people and stand up for their rights. Individually, lawyers do have a moral conscience. Unfortunately that is not reflected in the media nor indeed, in my opinion, in the representative bodies who I feel should be questioning the legality of bailing out bondholders and banks and suchlike. True leadership should be shown. It has been left to #Ballyhea and other protest groups to continue the fight against Government Austerity policies which go to bail out the rich at the expense of the poor. In the past the Trade Union Movement lead the citizen in protesting injustice. Sadly today the major Union #SIPTU are so closely associated with the Labour Party that their silence is deafening. Without the likes of Ballyhea, this whole sorry chapter in Irish society would not have a voice of protest.
So, as a lawyer am I advocating breaking the law by supporting a No Pay to Water Charges? Well, you’ll have to be the judge of that. I will continue to support my fellow citizens in their fight against an unjust law. I am proud to be associated with such good people.
Finally, I think it worthwhile watching Matt Damon, a lifelong friend of Howard Zinn and his family, read excerpts from a speech Howard Zinn gave in 1970 as part of a debate on civil disobedience.
Poster courtesy of Arcturus Blackhorn
LegalEagleStar , Tuesday , 6th. January , 2015.
A day doesn’t go by without us being bombarded by Apps. Sign up and get a free App for your iPhone. We have more Apps on our phones than we can use. Sure they may be handy at some stage in the future i.e. next week !
Over the past while, I’ve been horrified that many people, lawyers included, are saying ‘I’ve an App for that’… when discussing the law. Yes, I admit, some are educational but I am referring to those that are advocating that you can look after your own divorce, house sale or purchase and other such important matters which hugely impact on your life. Why go to College and study law; then spend time in a Law School to get your Practicing Certificate? Well according to these geniuses, no need at all. Sure save your money and use the App. They ask you why you are wasting money on these legal professionals when you can just use their App. Unfortunately, it would appear that many people are being taken in by this dangerous nonsense.
While I for one respect newly qualified lawyers, whether they be at the Bar or from the Law Society, they have their place in the overall legal framework. What most don’t have, is experience. That is only gained from many years of practice in their chosen fields. This experience is what comes into play when taking on a case for a client. The client deserves to go to law with experienced lawyers who have their interests solely at heart. Most spend many hours working up the case for their client and the full weight of their experience is called into play. Every client is unique. Their circumstances are not like any others. There may be similarities e.g. they have four children and have been married for twenty years. But that is where the similarity ends. To act as though two cases are the same would, in my opinion, equate to nothing short of professional negligence.
But I cannot afford thousands of pounds to employ a lawyer, or a team of lawyers as can be the case. Well, you cannot afford not to. How much did you spend on your wedding? That was a big event and a very important day for you. You spent what you could to celebrate in style. Yes, later you cut back on some items, but you didn’t do without what was important on the day. Well, your divorce costs should be thought of in similar terms. I am not suggesting you go to one of the Big Law Firms. They have access to the same Family Law Barristers as your local High Street Family Law Solicitor. Why people go to these firms is quite beyond me. In my experience,these firms are dealing with Corporate matters in the main and are not concerned with the day to day legal matters of the ordinary man and woman. They may take on your case if you’re doing your business with them or else if a relative of yours is. Your High Street Family Law Practitioner will give you a good personal service and instruct the appropriate barrister to get you through this difficult time.
I come across lay litigants a lot more today than I have in the past. While I respect the individual trying to do his own case, I do see the error of their ways. It is a nigh impossible task. To give credit where it is due, many Judges go out of their way to help such people. That alone will not help them get the justice which many deserve. So, when you download that magic App that will get you painlessly through your divorce or other pressing legal matter just remember… Law without a Lawyer is a fool’s paradise.
LegalEagleStar , Thursday , 7th. August , 2014 .