How to be an obscenely rich lawyer

Every time someone tells me how much I would have in the bank by now if I had put aside $20 each week since I was 12, I want to staple one of my credit cards to their tongue, writes Marcus Elliott.

Every time someone tells me how much I would have in the bank by now if I had put aside $20 each week since I was 12, I want to staple one of my credit cards to their tongue.

Not that I have ever really understood money. Although I do know a number of important things about it. Money doesn’t grow on trees, especially wax trees, umbrella trees and flame trees for obvious reasons. Compound interest is a powerful force in the universe, more powerful than Google. The GFC was very bad, even worse than KFC. You shouldn’t overcapitalise but undercapitalising could be dangerous as well. A sensible and well-balanced proportion of capitalisation is the best way to go, especially on a Friday. Buy low and sell high, especially if it gives you passive income, preferably negatively geared. Above all, get rich; obscenely rich if possible. This is the only time that people use the word obscene to mean something laudable.
Some people are scared of money, so scared that they fling it away as soon as they get it. Others are so scared of not having it that they squirrel it away and hardly touch it, surviving on teaspoons of lard and wearing second-hand underwear. Some people get up early to work on their money. Others get up late and work on spending it.

I don’t care about money even though people tell me I should. The main reason I became a lawyer is because I don’t like numbers. I hate maths and accounting. Ulysses is easier to understand than financial statements. Not that I can understand Ulysses.

The problem is that money is inescapable for a lawyer. No matter how much you try to avoid it, it always hunts you down. Usually it’s towards the end of each month when all that talk of doing the best job for the client and taking pride in your legal skills is replaced with questions about how many bills you’ve done so far and how many more will you do? And once you’ve done all you can, how many more can you do?

The last day of the month in a law firm is like dusk in the jungle when all the animals are ravenous and will eat anything they can catch and kill, even a purple pignose frog. On the last day of the month, I sit behind my partition shivering and asking life and death questions. Have I recorded enough billable time? How much of it will they write off? Have I even got close to my budget? How much more than me has everyone else billed? Why is the pignose frog purple and is one of its parents a pig?


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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