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Barristers' fees raise a business problem

Barristers' fees raise a business problem

In the first of The New Lawyer's new 'Outsider's View' column, which looks at the legal profession from outside the large firm high rise, Queensland barrister David Topp vents his views on the problem of barristers' fee recovery.

As a barrister, slow (or non existent) payment of tax invoices is par for the course really. Avid readers of The New Lawyer would be aware that it is an issue which I have been quoted on in the past, and indeed is one I intend to return to in the future also.


An interesting kernel of information came to me during discussions with a fellow professional, though non barrister, sole trader when I lamented the Bar’s perennial problem. My sole trader contact found that investing in a credit card payment facility generated a measurable increase in fee recovery in his business and that this occurred notwithstanding his passing on of the credit card provider’s surcharge.


Why is that? Could it be due to the fact that giving a credit card number is a simpler and quicker task for payers than the old fashioned write a cheque, attach to a covering letter, fold three ways, insert into an envelope and then find a post box somewhere method? 


Perhaps. Though I always quote my BSB and account number details on my invoices, yet find that less than 5 per cent of payers actually use it.


Could it instead be the fact that many credit cards are linked to various frequent flyer and other rewards programs? 

As someone who has in the past availed myself of frequent flyer points to enjoy a holiday or two, I do give the magnetic strips on my cards a fair work out. Perhaps not to the same extent as Steve Waugh’s iconic overwearing to threadbare status of his treasured baggy green cap, but nonetheless my cards do end up looking pretty second hand by the time that they arrive at their expiry date!


Based on my experiences, I would therefore venture that my sole trader contact’s reported success is more a product of a motivation less morally upright than a desire by his clients to ensure that they do the right thing by their professional advisers.


But if it works, who cares? 


Well the heads of various Bar Associations might. The Bar, along with the solicitors branch of the profession, is proudly noble. So much so that some barristers I have spoken to have gone so far as to be personally affronted if their solicitors post them a cheque drawn on the client’s account in payment of fees. Personally I could not care less if Donald Duck signed a cheque for one of my invoices so long as the cheque cleared. 

But if this is a concern for some counsel, could it follow that the nobility of the Bar would be diluted further by the relative tackiness of ‘Visa/Mastercard’ images on barristers’ fee notes? Or alternatively is it not recognition of the fact that the Bar is, rightly or wrongly, a business and if barristers don’t conform to and apply perfectly legal contemporary business practices, they will fail? No point having a noble profession if it is devoid of members in the first place.


There will undoubtedly be many views on this topic. The beauty of The New Lawyer as an online legal publication is the ability for readers to promptly respond by adding comments of their own. I await your comments with interest. 


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