Lawyer takes his case on the road
LAST Friday Jim Fiford, who has practised law in the Northern Rivers for 46 years, closed his office door for the final time as he and his wife prepare to join the legion of grey nomads cruising the nation’s highways in their retirement.
But he has no plans to completely hang up his shingle just yet – he is far too driven for that. Instead, after three months touring the top of Australia, he plans to return to help mentor the Young Turks at S+P Lawyers.
“It’s part of a retirement plan that I put into place three years ago when I sold my practice into S+P Lawyers so other solicitors could take over my matters, and my input would be limited to about one-day a week when I come back in September,” MrFiford said.
Educated at Lismore High, Mr Fiford was articled to a local law firm where he worked each day before studying every night and weekend for five years until he was admitted to the bar in 1965.
He then decided to study accountancy at TAFE, and is currently the co-ordinator of Lismore Chartered Practicing Accounts, where he often gives talks about how accountancy relates to different aspects of the law.
The third-generation Lismorite said he was never tempted to practise his profession in the city, preferring to remain in his home town.
He said although most lawyers would deny it, it’s hard not to become personally involved in cases.
“You certainly do become emotionally involved and worry about individual cases,” Mr Fiford said.
“It does become difficult because of my personality to detach yourself, particularly when I was doing family law and children wereinvolved.
“My policy has always been to try and settle and not litigate,” he said.
Indeed when a client sought his advice about divorcing her partner, he urged her to talk it over with her husband and reach a settlement to avoid embarking on a costly court case.
To be sure, sometimes that’s easier said than done. Mr Fiford remembers early in his careerdefending the Sugar Mills Co-operative accused of causing a large fish kill by discharging contaminated wastewater into the river.
“They were facing a prosecution of about 20 charges that might have brought in fines of between $12 and $15 million. It was catastrophic what they were facing,” he said.
Mr Fiford and the mill eventually won when it was proved that the cause of the fish kill was chemical run-off from nearby farms.
“What was momentous about it for me was that the case went for four months and had 32 hearing days in the Land and Environment Court is Sydney,” he said.
It also gave him an early insight into the frustration of flying in expensive expert witnesses only for the judge to defer their testimony.
But that was a long time ago, and the main thing on Mr Fiford’s mind now is where to find the best places to park his Winnebago.