Not long ago North Shore lawyer Andrew Hooker had 150 people lined up to take on their financial advisers. The finance company implosions had ruined them and there seemed a good chance to prove the money men had failed.
Hooker barely got the chance. Only 20 or 30 people went ahead. The rest were too tired, too elderly or lacked the stomach, including some “unbelievably sad” cases, he says.
Undaunted, the insurance company lawyer is fronting a major case over bank fees which he hopes will show New Zealanders collective action can work.
He wants to change our attitudes to suing and, eventually, the legal system.
Hooker isn’t saying we should become like the United States where you can, and people often do, sue for almost anything. But he said Kiwis too often shrug their shoulders when shafted.
If I think my bank is shafting me on bank fees, I swap banks.
The case has been heralded as New Zealand’s biggest class action but it is not a class action in the sense that other countries use the term. A draft bill that would let lawyers act for a whole class of people, with individuals having a choice to opt out, has been stalled in Parliament since 2008.
This frustrates Hooker immensely.
I’m very unsure that we wish to head down the US route of class action lawsuits popping up everywhere. The biggest beneficiaries of these suits appear to be the lawyers, in my observations!
The case won’t make him rich, he says. The $3.5 million pay packet one newspaper attributed to him is actually the current budget for the whole case. Most of the money is going to the big boys, including a New Zealand QC, strategy advisers, and an Australian senior counsel.
Litigation funder Litigation Lending Services will take a quarter of any win. Hooker is working for $318 an hour, with a top-up to the equivalent of $425 an hour on completion of the case. Right now it’s eating up about 10 hours of his week, but it fluctuates.
That’s $200,000 a year for 10 hours work a week. Not too shabby. Is there a percentage of any winnings also?