The legal profession has hit back at comments in the media by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland that using lawyers to resolve disputes was akin to grabbing a "tiger by the tail" and being "up the creek without a paddle".
Last Friday, McClelland told The Australian that the legal profession needed to embrace consumer reform of the profession because existing structure had failed to adapt to modern demands and expectations.
He said, prior to his "state of the legal nation" address at the Australian Legal Convention, that "there was no way many lawyers would willingly be consumers of their own legal services," and that "if you are in a dispute with someone, as soon as you go through a lawyer's door, you have grabbed a tiger by the tail".
Queensland Law Society CEO Noela L'Estrange has hit back, stating that such comments were alienating the profession. "Suggesting that 'as soon as you go through a lawyer's door you have grabbed a tiger by the tail' is hardly an appropriate way to win the profession's support for what will be momentous changes to its structure," L'Estrange said.
"And stating that using a lawyer to resolve a dispute left the client 'well and truly up the creek without a paddle' is a ludicrous comment totally at odds with the reality."
The Law Council has also expressed disappointment at the remarks, stating that McClelland's comments were disrespectful of the profession and amounted to little more than popular stereotypes.
Law Council president John Corcoran said: "People come to lawyers with legal problems which they have been unable to solve themselves. We do not create them. The vast majority of disputes are resolved without adjudication by the courts. Many clients would attest to the fact that it if wasn't for their lawyers, the problem would not have been solved."
L'Estrange said recent statistics from the Queensland Legal Services Commission show a different story of customer satisfaction. She pointed to the commission's 2007-08 annual report, which showed there were 6926 solicitors practising in the state, with 1123 public complaints received.
"Of these complaints, 722 were deemed as 'actual' complaints worthy of investigation. If we make the fair assumption that, on average, each solicitor dealt with 10 matters during that period, this indicates that only 1.04 per cent of matters led to a complaint that warranted investigation," said L'Estrange.
"If this is regarded as a 'failure rate', then it would not appear to support any proposal for increased regulation. It would, however, support the proposition that customer satisfaction amongst the users of Queensland legal services is extremely high."
L'Estrange also objected to the use of the term "punters" by the Attorney-General to describe law firm clients. "Our lawyers see clients as real people seeking professional advice for real legal problems," she said. "To describe them as 'punters' is objectionable. Queensland lawyers are hard-working professionals who ably fulfill their duty, which is to act always in the best interests of their clients."