In a previous post I shared my horrendous experiences with the new people at Gaze Burt, long-term Auckland lawyers. The founders would be turning in their grave if they knew how the newbies up there treated their customers now, but leaving their amateurism and egos aside for a moment, in this post I work through their Terms of Engagement in greater detail, revealing the hidden side to these lawyers’ own sloppy documents.
When negotiating to deal again with my ‘old’ lawyers Gaze Burt (I’ve been out of the country for seven years), I spoke to new people (to me). It wasn’t a pleasant experience with one of the Principals puffing up his chest and giving me the red card. I’ve already blogged about this experience predicting that little problems are often an indicator of and even precursor to bigger problems.
Incredibly this dopey law firm informed me that they did not expect me to go through their Terms of Engagement line by line – a Principal (no less) actually said that!
They agreed to a meeting and agreed to the terms;
Following our meeting tomorrow I will consider the basis for charging and the retainer amount, and let you know.
… they agreed to determine future payments after that meeting but changed it at last minute to require a huge deposit up front:
…the amount payable to our trust account would be $1,000+GST. We need this sum deposited in our trust account prior to the meeting or any further work, and enclose our deposit slip.
…which they never did!
OMG what geese these people are.
In the process of going through their pre-sales process, though, I identified several minor issues with their Terms of Engagement and a couple of show-stoppers. You can see the original in PDF format here. and I supplied the entire email set on a page here.
The problems I identified are:
- They state clearly that their terms are 20th of the month whereas they actually are not. Their normal practice is to charge a large amount up front as a security – they say to hedge against bad debts – so they break their own commitments to be honest, ethical, professional and upfront etc right at the get-go;
- They want me to agree to pay $30.00 (or 3% of their fee or the greater) for disbursements but they don’t define the period that the $30.00 relates to – it could be per invoice or per job or per month – who knows?!
- Their terms are to charge interest on overdue accounts . . . except that they actually require pre-payment – ummm go figure!
- They talk about, “Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers”, but they don’t tell me what or where they are – duh!
- Then they say, “Those obligations are subject to other overriding duties, including duties to the courts and to the justice system.” Righto, and what are those? Where are they? Double duh!
- Their document is a scrappy one, not in keeping with their otherwise very professional marketing efforts being a strange mixture of an online FAQ, a semi-easy-to-read Plain English document and a legal document, with formatting and presentation at sub-par, certainly compared with other lawyers’ offerings.
- The charging and payment of interest. Gaze Burt used to have a large component of Christian faith within the organisation. It appears that they are either ignorant of what the bible teaches on the subject [it’s totally prohibited BTW in both the Old and New Testaments] or they have moved their business away from the founders’ original values;
Let’s go through these things in turn, understanding that these are [supposedly] top lawyers in Auckland but remember that they don’t expect [or probably want] their clients to go through them line by line . . .
1. Terms 20th of the month
This one is easy to sort out . . . insert a phrase that clarifies the true situation with options to tick, cross or remove or a condition that says, “unless otherwise stated”. Simple basics of law. Epic fail.
2. $30 Disbursements
Again, this is not hard . . . simply identify the period on which the $30.00 applies. Simple stuff I would have thought. Another epic fail.
3. Interest on overdue accounts
These “Brainboxes” need to make up their mind don’t they? Do they do monthly accounts or pre-pay or a mixture or what? All they’ve got to do is to simply work out what their Terms of Engagement actually are; then write them up. Simple? Not for Gaze Burt lawyers it appears!
4. & 5. Absent, mysterious Rules and overrides
Lawyers have a whole bunch of rules – in the statutes, in their own marketing materials and at the Law Society. List them please Gaze Burt so that you are showing the world that you are professional, ethical, open and up-front. Even now I still don’t know whether they are referring to the Law or to the Law Society Rules! Geese . . .
6. A Scrappy Document
Based loosely around the Law Society template this whole thing is really just not up to scratch – the best thing in it is the Gaz Burt logo at the top right which is crisp clean, professional with great content – four simple ‘cool’ words. Spend 1/10 the time they did on their marketing on their actual Terms of Engagement and they’d clean their act up at the outset of a new [old] business relationship. Paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference, lines and paragraphs are poorly formatted. Either fully justify or rearrange to make it readable – see other lawyers’ ToE’s for examples Gaze Burt!
7. Charging Interest
This is a big no-no for genuine Christians. Sure, I know that this is normal in 2017 – to receive and to charge interest. Sure I know that for the last 500 years the Christian church has condoned this immoral practice but the bible (and the Islamic texts, and others) strictly prohibits usury. Jesus, and all the Old Testament prophets ALL said, “Nope! Don’t do it!” Period*. Gaze Burt either don’t know about this or they deliberately don’t hold to Christian principles. That makes them look like fools to genuine Christians who ARE up with the play on biblical teaching or that they don’t care because they want the interest anyway.
8. Automatic acceptance
Lastly, as I’ve previously said, it beggars belief that large Auckland lawyers would state that they do not expect their clients to go through their own documentation line-by-line. Furthermore that acceptance of their terms is automatic:
You accept the terms, or any further terms set out in a letter or email from us, if you continue to instruct us after receiving them.
. . . is rather interesting, especially when they said they don’t expect their clients to go through their Terms of Engagement line by line and that their terms are non-negotiable!
So . . . “Our Terms of Engagement are automatic once we send them to you; we don’t expect you to go through them line-by-line and don’t bother engaging with us over them because they are non-negotiable!”
Life has taught me to be very careful when trusting men with a moustache, cops and lawyers. I hesitate to complain formally, but reserve that right.
What is our complaints procedure?
If you have a complaint about our services or fees, you should refer your complaint to the Partner who has overall responsibility for your work. If you do not wish to refer your complaint to that Partner, or if you are not satisfied with their response to your complaint, you should refer the matter to our complaints officer, Daniel Smith. You can contact Daniel Smith by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 09 414 9800. You can also contact the Law Society’s Complaints Service by calling 0800 261 801.
or blog about it . . . which I have.
I don’t trust Gaze Burt now and haven’t yet got to the point of wanting to escalate the matters to their Complaint’s service or the Society, although I reserve that right. Bringing this scrappy into the public domain, I think is the best action to take in this case.
Did I hear the words, “Thanks for drawing it to our attention, Dennis!” from Gaze Burt’s practice manager?
My advice to Gaze Burt . . . get your act together people.
My advice to intending Gaze Burt clients . . . watch out. Not all is as it seems. Go through their Terms of Engagement line by line and find another lawyer if something doesn’t gel for you. Their terms are misleading, not accurate and non-negotiable. I’ve found another lawyer with well-written terms – he did or can negotiate them as I saw fit and considered it professional to do that with me.
* There is one instance where scriptures authorise the charging of usury in the Old Testament – Israelites were exempted when charging interest to their enemies [it was an enslavement technique]. Jesus was quite clear – “Do not lend at interest”. Some claim that one parable endorses evil however it is an example of a “bad” dude doing bad things in which Jesus contrasted not condoned behaviour. So, unless you live in the Old Testament times and are an Israelite enslaving God’s enemies . . . genuine Christians will follow the words of the Master – no charging interest [and that also means receiving it as that condones immorality, the same as living off war, prostitution or abortion does]!