How to be an obscenely rich lawyer

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And then I go home and look at my own financial position. I realise that I need to save more, a lot more. I need to pay off the mortgage — urgently. Every day is costing me money — every second in fact. During the time it took to type that last sentence my mortgage grew by $37. That’s the sinister power of compound interest. There goes another $37. I need to prepare a personal budget ($37 more). Help! I need to stop spending so much on coffee and books and start saving for my retirement which, although decades away, is looming as large as one of those alien spaceships that settled over each city in Independence Day. Maybe I should get rich by investing in shares or starting my own investment portfolio or both. Yes, that would be the way to go for sure. The money I get from doing that would solve a lot of problems, I can assure you. If I can put some time aside from dealing with clients, lawyers, spouses, children, parents and unsolicited calls from charities and that bloke who phones every month and tells me on a crackling line that my computer has a bug which he can repair, I could really do something good. I could be very wealthy indeed. You just watch me. But what if something goes wrong? I should definitely maybe get some insurance organised: house, contents, car, income protection, health, disability (permanent and temporary) and life. And on my spouse as well. She could die or, even worse, require major dental treatment. I need to be ready for that eventuality. But isn’t that just more money out the door, which could be put towards my investment portfolio? And my kitchen is broken. It’s true. Nothing works except me and the kettle. Maybe it’s better to fix instead of float. But my friends are all floating! Everyone’s doing better than me! They have functional stoves. So I develop a plan: start putting away $20 per week and drinking two glasses of red wine each night which I understand is essential for the heart.

Is it even possible for a lawyer to get rich? I haven’t seen lawyers on any Rich List. I’ve thought a lot about this while sitting on the bus on the way to work. The good news is that I’ve concluded that a lawyer can become obscenely rich. It’s just a question of interpretation, like any legal problem.

I understand from Wikipedia that there’s a concept in statutory interpretation called ‘the golden rule’.[1] This ‘allows a judge to depart from a word's normal meaning in order to avoid an absurd result’.

As I have explained above, it’s absurd to think that a lawyer has any chance of becoming rich. By applying this ‘golden rule’, the only realistic definition of the word ‘rich’ is ‘poor’.

Wikipedia also tells me that there’s a further rule of interpretation called the ‘mischief rule’.[2] Deluding lawyers into thinking they can get rich creates a lot of mischief. Defining rich as poor would ameliorate this mischief.

If, as I propose, rich is defined as poor, it’s very unlikely that any lawyer would wish to be obscenely rich (that is, obscenely poor). For this reason ‘obscenely’ should be defined as ‘moderately’: res ipsa loquitur.[3]

Once you have set your goal as being obscenely rich, which is now defined as moderately poor, you will find that your financial goals are easily achievable. And you’ll still be doing pretty much the same thing as if you defined these words in their original sense. You’ll still be going to work, acting for clients and rendering bills. The only difference is that at some point in the distant future your life may not be quite as good as it would otherwise have been had you put away $20 each week since before you were born. At that point simply increase the volume of red wine each night from two glasses to two bottles. Then the only people who will really care about how much you have in the bank will be those who might succeed in a Family Protection Act claim against your estate. And they should be focusing on their own money problems, which they will be well-placed to solve if they are not lawyers.

By Marcus Elliott
[1]               See (last accessed 13 October 2015).

[2]               See (last accessed 13 October 2015).

[3]               The thing speaks for itself; see (last accessed 13 October 2015).

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  • Marcus McCarthy on 9/11/2015 3:42:54 PM

    I think this sad reality is an outcome of how we have organised ourselves as a profession. There is a much better way to practice law but the profession as a whole is still clinging out to outmoded practice structures that deliver no value to clients or themselves. Our regulators need to wake up and foster some of the positive developments in the NewLaw space that hold the promise of better outcomes for lawyers - and by that I do not mean the virtual law firms, the secondment agencies or the online document shops...

  • Ana Percic on 9/11/2015 11:15:13 AM

    That's exactly what I needed to start my Monday LOL

  • LindG on 9/11/2015 9:51:53 AM

    I absolutely agree Marcus and I think your take on this is spot on - if we calculated all the study time we have put in and then working for someone else to either be partner or setting up our own business from scratch when other kids left school at the age of 16 in Year 10 and started earning an income and saving real money 10 years before we did - we are definitely in the wrong game - if I had my life over I would leave school at 16 get a trade apprenticeship, live with my parents until I had a deposit on a house and in 10 years I would be saving money and not paying off student loans and then start-up business costs ! I think my plumber earns more than I do.

  • Terry McMaster on 7/11/2015 10:13:21 AM

    What is the point of this article?

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