Jobs go as Crown lawyers take more but do less

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.

janderson@nbr.co.nz

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Just another version, albeit white collared, of the 'arms in the welfare trough' syndrome.

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Why use private law firms at all? By definition, they are incentivised to pursue as many prosecutions as possible, fair or unfair, and to throw as much resource at them as possible to maximise their bill. Many innocent parties in this country have suffered the consequences of this racket.

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The whole legal profession is nothing more than a racket created "by the boys for the boys". Private law firms should NOT be involved.
English is the most descriptive language on the planet and the law is very very specific and exacting in its detail...HOWEVER two lawyers ALWAYS have 100% apposing views on it otherwise there wouldnt be a battle in the courts with one arguing against the other @ $400/hr..(puke)
How can it be that they have apposing views....cos its a game..that why.
A very very expensive one that wastes millions of dollars and thousands of man hours...very unproductive....oh and thats the biggest problem we face in the western world...most people are involved in unproductive work....and we wonder why we have to borrow 300 million plus a week,pity we gave up on actually producung goods instead of borrowing money to buy them from firstly the Japs, then Korea, Taiwan and now China. God help NZ cos its obvious the present govt wont!

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So the alternative would be to create another government department, and have a minister who was in charge of criminal prosecutions.

How many NBR readers actually believe that a government department would be more efficient, and sufficiently independent?

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The Crown should lay a complaint with the law society on the tax payers'behalf because there seems to be clear evidence of fraudulent billing.

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Sort of like the Serious Fraud Office you mean? They take more and do less too. What's the difference?

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Snouts caught in the trough. Family court lawyer got caught pilfering legal aid and now crown prosecutors. This ontop of the incompentent efforts of our judicairy as trumpeted by Anthony Molloy QC, which shows I think a real sickness running deep through significant parts of NZ's legal system.

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To their credit, Crown lawyers are some of the most competent, ethical and indeed professional practitioners. But, when the state is poor, it must cut across all sectors and so it goes.

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