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WADR: Time to tighten the belts

Every Issue

Cite as: (2009) 83(06) LIJ, p.88


As the economic crisis grows, workforces are shrinking and the bean counters are concocting more and more ways, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, to save funds.

Some firms around town have also seen fit to introduce drastic measures, including office stationery audits, a ban on juniors shouting a client meals and drinks, and even banning printing.

These can probably be justified, but what is the excuse for putting the kibosh on celebrating birthdays and other personal milestones in the office . . . even when the staff shelled out for the cake or gifts.

But it could always be worse, and nearly always is at legal aid if a revelation aired on ABC’s Radio National is correct.

According to Norman Rayburn, of Legal Aid Tasmania, Tasmanian lawyers are forced to share robes.

He said lawyers sometimes have to ask for an adjournment so they can pass on the robes to an under-dressed colleague.

As we all know it is court procedure that the robes be worn when appearing before the higher courts.

But at up to $5000 a throw for robes and barristers’ wigs costing over $1000, it is no wonder they are rarer than hen’s teeth in legal aid offices.

Ask around the Victoria Legal Aid offices and you will discover some staffers hold similar concerns.

But if things get too bad, there is a chance the New Zealanders could, for once, send a welcome import across the ditch.

The Shaky Isles embraced a change in civil and criminal trials in 1995 that saw robes and wigs left at the door.

Perhaps the local legal community could make an SOS call to NZ counterparts for donations of any stockpiled wigs and robes.

However, as always, the Victorian Bar has devised a way to save us all from financial oblivion.

During the Legal Comedy Debate, held on 20 April at the Athenaeum Theatre on Collins Street as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Philip A Dunn QC unveiled his plan.

You can forget the current federal government stimulus packages, said Dunn, as they do not target the real spenders in society . . . lawyers.

So, as we are all in the middle of a GFC (Global Financial Crisis) what the world needs now is not love but a LLR (Lawyer Led Recovery).

That’s right, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, give every lawyer a little fiscal stimulation and they will be walking from Australian retailers laden with Cuban cigars, caviar and Dom Perignon champagne to load into their new Australian-made luxury cars to ferry them to beautiful six-star, Australian-operated hotels.

And for some advice with a difference, the staff of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, California can teach us all a thing or two about consolidating your position, i.e., job security, in these tough economic times. The court has been dubbed the most beautiful courthouse in America and thus attracts a steady stream of snap happy tourists from near and far, keen to capture the mission-style beauty. A problem for the steady flow of justice is that it is a fully-functional courthouse and, despite the existence of an information booth, WADR was advised by one of the police prosecutorial staff – while giving a brief history of the building and directions – that he is often called on to give a brief history of the building and directions. He said the only court hangers-on that he has not seen do so are the judges, and this includes defendants, barristers and jurists.

To round out this month’s uplifting report, it is with a heavy heart we inform members of a new dollar-shaving development in an “overseas” firm that could cause a near riot should it gain popularity in Australia.

It seems the firm, which will remain nameless, has decided to adopt a policy to make it seem to clients they are always fully-staffed – or to disguise fewer hands on deck.

The firm has advised all staff that they must not use the “out of office” email response.

This means that, unless they are under the surgeon’s knife or a mile high flying between appointments, they must always be available, including on personal holidays and when asleep.

This item should also serve as a heads-up for those who fancy ducking out early on Friday afternoons or love a long lunch during the week.

They may soon find they cannot use the “I am out of the office but will reply tomorrow/Monday” response.

Besides, we all know what you are really doing.

Miss Demeanour’s guide to life, love, law and disorder

Dear Miss Demeanour,

The GFC has got me spooked. Even my top-tier firm, a veritable light on the legal hill, is shedding staff. Has global economics no respect? Some of my colleagues (well, the ones who aren’t furiously enrolling in insolvency CPDs or loitering with intent on the litigation floor) are jumping the private practice ship and taking up jobs in the public service, convinced that’s the safest port in this financial storm. What would you do?

Regards, Spooked

Dear Spooked

Miss Demeanour’s sum knowledge of economics is limited to the fact that I’ve just sent the Commissioner of Taxation a cheery little missive reminding him that I’m still waiting for my economic stimulus gift rebate, as are the Manolos I’ve got on lay-by down at Chapel Street. [Yes, the economic situation is that dire: even lawyers are doing lay-by.]

Now the only thing Miss Demeanour values more than the aforesaid Chapel Street stiletto is public service. And it just so happens that there are a few public service jobs going begging at the moment – judicial appointments, no less.

Apart from the small matter of the statutory criteria, the ad (yes, ad) says you’ll need a “sound temperament”. That’s almost part of a lawyer’s DNA. Just think of how you bite (through) your tongue when, on a Friday evening when you’re trying to finish up so you can get to the free staff bar (and knees up, its days are surely numbered), a client calls with a query that’s “so urgent it just can’t wait (although I won’t actually read your advice until Tuesday at the earliest)”.

Good luck, and enjoy the wig.

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