Well-established Auckland law firm, Gaze Burt, impressed me a long time ago when in an incredible act of integrity and self-sacrifice, the Principals at the time (personally) covered for one of their own when he turned bad and took off with their clients’ trust funds. I now how hard that was for several families that basically lost all to a partner turned crook, and pretty much an unrepentant one at that. A recent engagement with the same company raises serious red flags for me, prompting a warning that with their current leadership, Gaze Burt may be going bad again. Be careful out there people; they’ve got some great marketing, but not all is what it seems!
I’ve said many times that you never really get to know someone until you’ve had a ‘scrap’ with them. It’s not that you need blood on the floor, but the moment that there is tension in a relationship, you can get a pretty good measure of who you are really dealing with. Speak to the ones handling reality after the honeymoon is over. They’ll tell you all about it! Maybe it’s a new job and it takes a week before the boss balls you out . . . then you know the reality of that new job! Buy a widget from the XYZ retailer and then try to take it back for an exchange or a refund. Then you’ll find out if they are a company of integrity or not!
Gaze Burt are established lawyers here in Auckland. They’re located nearby the High Court (very helpful, thank you!) and have one of the best bylines I’ve ever seen in a lawyer’s practice “Gaze Burt, we see law differently”. That’s very smart! Their website is also crisp, clean and up to date. Stunning photos with a large team and every photo all smiling must have taken a huge effort to organise, and yet . . . it took only hours for me to end up in a ‘scrap’ with them recently and I’ve found out the hard way that things can get pretty ugly if you dare to push a few buttons with them.
I’m a self-confessed “prickly rooster” but their litigation people seem to have forgotten their own marketing spiel and they have successfully simultaneously fired me up AND sh*t in their own nest at the same time. Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution” Miles Edwards is a Principal who has just disgraced himself; his company and the legal profession with a rant to my father and me in their offices this morning. “Bugger off and don’t come back!” was the message.
Apart from the rudeness of the officious little bald-headed dude who ranted at us without letting us get an edge in for something approaching 15 minutes, Gaze Burt have proven themselves to me to be morally bankrupt and only interested in looking good.
Oh for the days of old when a man shake on his word and we could trust him for it!
You can see the original documents & timeline if it intrigues you and/or you’re masochistic! The story is a long one – a fast unfolding scrap but I summarise it now.
I’ve been helping a few people with their legal things and I’ve had a couple of cases of my own. I sought answers to a few questions, mostly procedural stuff, a few little conceptual things and one larger matter that would probably blow up into a $5,000.00 legal opinion job if there was found to be legs to it. As I was and am representing myself it is not the regular, “take it to a lawyer; pay them a deposit and they start to work on it” sort of thing. No, this was, as the guy Nathan Tetzlaff from Gaze Burt accurately described, “to be instructed on a piecemeal basis to answer discrete questions about legal proceedings”.
So, he told me his hourly rate, we setup a time and a place to meet the next day and all was sweet until their Terms of Engagement arrived. Oh boy! He now wants $1,000.00 PLUS Grab, Snatch & Take and BEFORE we even get there in the morning! Holy Schmoley . . . first he wants to change the entire verbal agreement – mistake. Then he slips me some sloppy document that I have some problems with signing before he even meets me – second mistake. Then he tells me that the Terms of Engagement are sacrosanct, non-negotiable and must be accepted in total even though his own email request runs counter to his own Terms of Engagement. For a guy who reads the fine print this was another big mistake! I tell you lawyers can get really touchy when you challenge them at their own game! ESPECIALLY if you’ve got a point.
Anyway, all of this can be seen in the timeline. Nathan made a string of mistakes in what he did and did not do. He was set up by a company that has sloppy documentation and unclear pre-sales processes then he did the worst thing possible – he brought in the ‘heavies’ to sort me [and my father] out . . . BIG mistake!
Let’s start from the meeting, the matter of utmost disgrace to the legal profession and to Gaze Burt. Here is my summary of the meeting as sent by email to Miles Edwards (Head of Litigation and Resolution) at Gaze Burt:
Recapping this morning’s meeting
Dennis A Smith <email@example.com>
14:21 (1 hour ago)
to miles.edwards, Nathan, [redacted]
- I recap here, in the interests of completeness and accuracy, our meeting of this morning.
- We arrived at your premises slightly earlier than the agreed time.
- You came out to my father and me when we were in your foyer/waiting area.
- You introduced yourself and Nathan without a handshake and failed to make eye contact.
- You did not offer nor seek to exchange business cards yet they rested on the counter right behind you.
- You spoke abruptly to me saying, “You! In here!” and you informed my father that he should stay seated outside in the waiting area, attempting to separate us.
- He didn’t stay there though and followed us in to your meeting room.
- You accepted his actions with a verbal acknowledgement along the lines that, “OK You want to come in too?” and we all sat down.
- You informed me without introduction or preamble that there would be no meeting today.
- You told me that you had tried to phone me but there was no answer but that you didn’t want to “read anything into that”.
- You informed me that you had read my email to Nathan and that you considered that you were “above reproach & didn’t appreciate how I spoke or what I said” [paraphrased]
- You acknowledged in quite some depth that, yes, sometimes lawyers do offer an early meeting to scope matters [my words], but you didn’t apply this directly to yourselves.
- You spoke to only one of the issues in my email(s) with Nathan, that of justifying your fees/charging procedures explained as a risk management procedure.
- You informed me directly that you “do not expect your clients to go through your Terms of Engagement line by line” – your exact words.
- You advised me that the ToE must be accepted in full, echoing Nathan’s line.
- You suggested that if I didn’t like your ToE that I should find another lawyer to which you helped me to understand that there were plenty of them around.
- You also told me (goodness only knows why) that your photo was on your website.
- I said nothing, and for the entire time looked at you directly awaiting eye contact. There was none until you had finished your rant.
- I did look across once to Nathan while you were talking and made sustained eye contact with him however.
- You informed me that “[My] staff will not be hijacked into a meeting!”
- After you finished (somewhere between 10-15 minutes) you finally invited me to speak, or have my say.
- I advised you that I understood from you very clearly at the outset of the meeting that there would be no meeting today and said nothing more.
- Upon rising to depart you informed my father that nothing in the meeting related to him personally and we departed but only after I initiated handshakes with you and Nathan.
If I have anything wrong or have mis-represented the true situation, please correct me at your earliest.
I shall respond to this morning’s experience with Gaze Burt formally in another time and place.
Now that’s all pretty straight-forward. The guy acted like a little Hitler, was rude, not even shaking the hand of an 87 year old man who had gotten up early shaved, travelled in a car through rush-hour traffic to be there on time with me, and then trying to split us up, then ranting on and on and on about things as if he was in a huge conflict situation when we were there with a chequebook simply asking for half an hour of expertise as had already been agreed to by his own company the night before!
Talk about ego!
So, not being short of a word, nor the b*lls to say it how it is to officious little Principals in a big law firm, I let rip in reply:
In the meantime however please note that aside from the matters already raised in the emails (note: plural, emails) that I consider your conduct this morning a disgrace to the legal profession, in direct breach of your own Terms of Engagement, specifically your promise to “treat [us] fairly, respectfully and without discrimination”; a disgusting demonstration of rudeness, insult to an older generation, ignorance, bluff and attempted bullying basically to try to protect one of your team who (I believe) probably simply made a mistake or two.
Now this is important to realise . . . a verbal agreement is legally binding. Gaze Burt entered into a clear contract and then reneged on it. Sure the way it was done sucked too – treating my father and me the way they did was a social injustice worthy of only the supremely arrogant, but breaching contract by a lawyer is (as I see it) sheer stupidity.
The bullying attempts can be seen clearly by the [unsuccessful] attempt to split us up, the words he used was pushing his weight around; the fact that he didn’t extend the usual courtesies and graces to his new clients showed his dominance and the domination of the conversation preventing others from talking until he had completed his little rant. This was one h*ll of a performance, all generated to show all his power. Nobody has the cheek to muscle HIS staff was the thinking that came out when he said “[My] staff will not be hijacked into a meeting!”
I then referred back to my warnings to the younger lawyer and to previous experiences with the founding Principals. These guys were good guys – old school troupers who had done the hard yards and you could trust. They knew how to charge of course but they did deal with people like they really were people.
I warned Nathan not to make a big deal of this and to simply honour his agreement and thus this is why I sought his sharing of ALL my communications with Gaze Burt leadership in the interests of efficient and ethical business. If your conduct this morning represents the new shape and form of GB’s “seeking law differently” then I fear for your clients AND the firm. The old shape had some integrity and recognised that they were in the people business.
So now to the consequences of what this ‘goose’ Miles Edwards has done . . .
It is my opinion that your attitude and actions have and will probably bring a blot on the supposedly good name of Gaze Burt, something that you [pl] may have to live with for a very long time. As “Head if Litigation and Dispute Resolution” for a large Auckland law firm you’ve either for a lot to learn or you’ve got a serious cognitive dissonance when you inflame a little situation into something bigger like you have this morning. I think you are nuts and made a big mistake.
So, that said, you have required me to seek legal assistance from alternative sources. I shall do that despite my wish to deal with my old lawyers.
It’s only ten or twenty years that I’ve been working with Gaze Burt in various ways. I guess, sadly there are other lawyers out there. Maybe there is one who can deal with a straight-shooter like me who does read a legal document “line by line” and think. Perhaps there is somebody in the legal profession who wants my money, whatever I have to throw their way from time to time!
I now recommend that you to inform your professional underwriters of the events of the last 24 hours immediately and copy them in to all communications to date and in the future. I warn you too now that I am a man of my word; that I am a “prickly” rooster who likes applying logic onto fact, who lives by principles and who resents attempts at being pushed around by angry lawyers who are morally bankrupt, can’t deal with substantive issues maturely and can’t deal with people constructively.
I also suggest that you reread the emails I sent and address some of the issues I raised because sure as eggs somebody somewhere, sometime is going to take you guys on over your sloppy, contradictory, ToE document and pre-sales processes, even if I don’t. The post going up will be entitled Gaze Burt Gone Bad, Again and will be totally accurate but pull no punches. Thank you for drawing me to your photo on your website. Speaking to a known identified investigative blogger as you were, I’d consider that an open invitation to use it. I will. Thank you.
As far as I am concerned, Gaze Burt can do whatever they like in business now. The name is there in the market place and has been for many years, but the integrity isn’t, certainly not within the Litigation and Dispute Resolution departments anyway. It needs a total flush out from the top down and the installation of a leader who can be trusted; who is pragmatic, humble, strategic thinking and can deal with real people in conflict situations, and the junior “Associates” taught that sometimes, just sometimes it might pay to listen to your clients. Miles this is not!
After summarising his role in the company, Miles Edwards’ personal puff piece says this (My bolding where Miles talks about Miles):
Miles’ black letter law expertise, and experience resolving an extraordinary range of conflicts and problems, perfectly positions him to oversee all litigation and dispute resolution undertaken by Gaze Burt’s professional staff.
Miles’ strategic thinking and ability to accurately triage difficult and complex problems, whether legal or otherwise, for the purpose of quickly identifying and implementing effective solutions, offers Gaze Burt clients a premium resource.
Miles’ view of his abilities emphasises his focus on a client’s needs:
Miles’ own practice sees him regularly advising a large body of loyal clients on matters including statutory compliance, employees and contractors, risk management, estate planning, company and commercial structures, insolvencies, receiverships and liquidations, insurance, debt recovery, shareholders’ agreements, terms of trade, securities, construction contracts and disputes (including leaky building issues), and overseas investment in New Zealand.
In addition to his practice, Miles actively contributes to the development of Gaze Burt’s professional staff through teaching modules on Risk Management, Business Development and Leadership.
“I’m a fixer … my role is to solve the problems that make people worry, so they can stop; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a regulatory investigation, a lawsuit, a client’s child in difficulty, or anything else causing heartache and stress.”
Miles, you have today shown me, and now the world, that the above is just total BS when it comes to your own house. Get your own act together first, read the emails properly, address the actual issues, do it while maintaining relationships and choose to do this with humility or the world will know what I know – the truth. You are just full of BS and anyone who trusts the name of Gaze Burt after having read this experience – those who commences business with you or maintains business with you – will do so knowing who you really are . . . a guy who converted a long-term existing client returning into a detractor – with attitude inside all of fifteen minutes.
The heading of this story refers to Gaze Burt ‘going bad’ but also “again’. A long time ago there was a rotten apple in the midst of Gaze Burt. It cost the company and those who founded it a lot to flush him out and to save it from destruction. The pattern has been set within Gaze Burt and it could easily be a repeating story today from what I’ve seen. Guys, gals within the Gaze Burt leadership, from what I’ve seen the pattern is now repeating. Conduct shown to me from today from one of your own insiders is NOT becoming of integrity or long-term business interests. You’ve been warned.
Lessons learned from this exercise:
- Gaze Burt has twice from two people told me that they do not expect their clients to read or analyse their Terms of Engagement line by line but I did and caught them out. GB are hypocrites to seek that ignorance from their clients when they make their living from creating, reading and commenting on documents and agreements line by line. They are requiring me to practice legal foolishness as a condition of becoming one of their clients. This is in breach of their own T0E and all professional guidelines for legal practices. A complaint to the Law Society would have merit.
- Gaze Burt has twice from two people advised that their ToE are sacrosanct and must be accepted without change prior to work commencing. They don’t say this though in their pre-sales processes. Apart from the arrogance of this approach it is deceptive – again in breach of both their ToE and all other reasonable expectations of proper disclosure.
- Gaze Burt staff do not know what is in their ToE, argue for and against different positions thus offering conflicting stories to a prospective client. This is unprofessional and sloppy.
- Gaze Burt’s ToE is a scrappy document, in terms of layout and depth of thought. It is a mixture of an FAQ, legal agreement and attempt at a Plain English agreement. It is reminiscent of a child’s attempt at a legal Terms of Engagement taking a template from an offline source and modifying it to fit the New Zealand scene. It is not in keeping with their other professional branding and marketing materials [well done volom and functioneight].
- Gaze Burt employs people who want to look good, who live by appearances but lack integrity. Their Head of Litigation claims to understand Dispute Resolution and prevent problems but instead creates problems.
- The list could go on . . .
I’ve been out of the country for over seven years. Maybe this is the new norm I am returning to, but my advice is, sadly, pass ’em by or give ’em the flick before you too get caught like I (and my father) did today.
So, not wanting to ping people without helping them to learn, this is what I think Gaze Burt SHOULD have done:
- Nathan should have honoured his agreement to meet – regardless of the cost or technical issues. It is normal for lawyers to have an introductory chat and there would have been no problem normally in meeting a new client, just to talk. Yes, I was a little different and yes, I sought legal assistance up front which put stress on a junior lawyer but to breach agreement is a VERY serious matter, especially dealing with people like me.
- Nathan should have pushed the importance of the Terms of Engagement to the back burner and let others deal with the tricky subjects or areas of contention. If you are about your business, you really DO NOT want to get into a conflict situation with a new client even before you have met him! Get him in the door, meet and greet and sort it all out face-to-face and who knows? Maybe there wasn’t even a problem.
- Miles did everything wrong, and then some. He had a client in the door, one that his company had served for decades previously and told him to bugger off. I had a chequebook open and specific questions easily answered so he missed out on not only a client but being able to have helped someone. Old-school gaze Burt people would have even answered my simple questions for nothing if I brought them more and larger work! Miles failed to build relationship and deliberately sought to throw his weight around. In the process he screwed up by showing Gaze Burt’s real colours to the world. The reason . . . I’m an investigative blogger. This is what I do . . . push buttons and then tell the world when crims, crooks and crazies show their head.
- Miles should have done some basic due diligence and addressed the actual issues – I laid them all out very clearly and they were important.
- Miles should have also apologised for any misunderstanding at the outset of any meeting and not puffed himself up. What a “Dick” some people can be – not a strategic bone in his body let alone calling himself and expert in Dispute Resolution!
Miles, you had your rant this morning.
I’ve now had mine.
You owe my father [and me] an apology and Gaze Burt, as I said, you’ve got problems.