Jobs have been axed as fiscal belts tighten across a cosy Crown solicitor network where lawyers have been paid more for doing less.
The cost of Crown solicitor services provided by 16 private law firms has exploded in recent years but the workload has been trending down.
This year’s Budget signalled tough measures to bring sky-rocketing spending and inefficiencies under control.
In Auckland, for example, blue-chip firm Meredith Connell – which has held the Crown contract for generations – has a major employment fight on its hands after disposing of 11 legal support jobs. Meredith Connell has already closed its Manukau branch office.
Legal sources say at least two well known lawyers who act for the Crown – Dale LaHood of Luke Cunningham & Clere in Wellington, and Palmerston North Crown solicitor Ben Vanderkolk - have made it known they are looking for more private work.
The cost of funding the Crown solicitor network increased by 60% in five years, but the number of case “disposals” increased by only 2% - an unacceptable variation which points to some serious inefficiencies by some law firms holding Crown warrants.
Further discrepancies have already been identified in the case of two unidentified Crown solicitors only a few hundred kilometres apart in similar-sized centres doing the same job for significantly different costs.
If anything, the volume of work being handled by the Crown solicitor network is “trending down,” Parliament’s law and electoral committee heard earlier this year.
Which is one of the reasons the network has to make do with 9% less this financial year.
In a move aimed at getting costs back to 2008/9 levels, the government this year cut the Crown Law Office budget by $9.07m to $69.293m, to be followed by a further $4m cut the following year.
Earlier this year Attorney-General Chris Finlayson told Parliament’s justice and electoral committee the cost of the private firm network had increased considerably in recent years.
A few private law firms engaged in Crown work have kept their costs reasonably steady, but other firms who have, according to one legal source, appointed “business managers,” have seen costs rocket.