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‘Heroes of Groningen’ reprimanded by lawyer for lawyers

Printed below is an English translation of an article published today by the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times, Financieele Dagblad

A house in the Lageland in Groningen has been seriously damaged by the earthquakes and will soon be demolished.Photo: Kees van de Veen / HH

‘Heroes of Groningen’ reprimanded by lawyer for lawyers

Bas Knoop • Entrepreneurship

Law firm De Haan has made ‘inadmissible agreements’ about remuneration with thousands of duped homeowners in the earthquake area in Groningen.

The so-called success fees that the Groningen office requires from clients with residential damage, in case they receive compensation from NAM, are a violation of the prohibition of no cure, no pay in the legal profession.

The Board of Discipline, the disciplinary court for lawyers, came to this decision in a case filed by Rob Geene, dean of the Order of Lawyers in the Northern Netherlands. Two directors and two De Haan lawyers received a reprimand.

The disciplinary judge finds that the foursome has acted contrary to the ‘core values ​​of independence and integrity’. They would place their own interests too far ahead and have insufficient regard for the interests of their clients.

Strong thump

With this verdict, the disciplinary judge shares a strong blow to De Haan, who immediately announced that he would appeal. De Haan tries to force compensation from NAM for the depreciation of their homes on behalf of more than 3,800 earthquake victims.

The law firm asserts that the disciplinary court’s decision ‘has no adverse consequences’ for them.

In the autumn of 2015, Groningen lawyers were able to arrange for the NAM to compensate for the reduction in value of houses in the earthquake area. The NAM filed an appeal.

The thousands of victims have registered with the Foundation established by De Haan in 2013

Impairment due to earthquakes in Groningen (WAG). The participants paid € 100 once. Should the NAM actually proceed to pay damages, then the participants will each contribute 5% to 10% of this amount to De Haan.

Violation ban no cure, no pay

A clear violation of the no cure, no pay ban, said Dean Geene, who went to the disciplinary judge. In this construction, according to Geene, the amount of the remuneration for De Haan depends on the outcome of the court case. And that is forbidden in the legal profession.

De Haan’s rebuttal consistently stated that even without success fee, the lawyers can pay themselves ‘modest, cost-covering salary’. The success fairy is only a supplement. De Haan appealed to a decision of the 1998 Court of Discipline.

Negligible small

But the Discipline Board dismissed this argument. The one-off contribution of € 100 is ‘negligible small’ and is not a ‘real remuneration for the work of lawyers’. Moreover, with this no cure, no pay construction, there is a danger that the firm places its own financial interest above the interests of the clients.

Hans Silvius, director at De Haan, calls the reasoning of the disciplinary judge ‘too short by the turn’. He points out that in addition to the contributions of the duped homeowners, the Groningen office also receives payments from legal assistance insurers and twelve housing corporations.

‘The corporations pay us based on an hourly invoice,’ says Silvius. ‘So there is a large fund with money that allows us to do our work. Any success fees are only an addition to our remuneration. ‘

Pietje Bell

Silvius feels like a ‘Pietje Bell put away in the corner’ by the disciplinary judge. Despite the ‘disappointing verdict’, De Haan continues to stand up for the interests of duped homeowners. Whether and how De Haan will adjust the agreements on remuneration, Silvius does not want to anticipate this. ‘First let the Court of Discipline decide on appeal in appeal.’



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