Bruce Sheppard fires first salvo at lawyers

Outspoken accountant prepares for big debate with the lawyers.

Their work may converge but lawyers and accountants remain fundamentally different beasts, outspoken accountant Bruce Sheppard says.

Mr Sheppard leads an accounting team against lawyers, led by Otago University law dean Mark Henaghan, in the ASB Great Debate at Auckland’s Sky City on August 31.

Also on the accounting team are Lyle Irwin from RSM Prince and Mary Jane Daly, formerly of IAG and BNZ.

The lawyers' team also features public law specialist Mai Chen and Auckland Crown solicitor Simon Moore QC.

The ticket-only event, which is intended to become an annual big night out, is a fundraiser for Starship and Kidney Kids.

And it will feature the contentious topic of whether lawyers or accountants contribute more to society.

The lawyers are pleading their right to silence ahead of the debate, which is organised by International Entertainment New Zealand (IENZ) and the Rotary Club of Auckland and supported by the National Business Review.

Mr Sheppard is also keen not to give too much away before the debate, fearing it will give his foes an advantage.

“I want to keep my cards close to my chest.  I can think of rebuttals to each of my jabs and Mr Henaghan can think of them on his feet.”

However, he says he will be teasing out differences between the way lawyers and accountants think and operate, which remain in spite of an increasing “convergence” in the types of work they do.

“One of my favourite differences is this: accountants can pick who they work for.  They can say to an *rsehole, ‘I don’t like you, I’m not going to do any work for you’. 

“Lawyers have to work for anyone who comes through their door, whether they think they’re right, wrong or indifferent.”

Mr Sheppard has heard many lawyers claim this as the reason they had to help clients “rape and pillage”, he says.

“They have a requirement that when bastards come across their doorstep, they have to help them be bastards; they can’t tell them to go away. 

“At least, that’s the defence that lawyers who have gouged enormous fees from finance companies gave for their role in the road crash.

“My response is, it’s sad you enable those rules to aid and abet bad people to do bad things.  I’m sorry but birds of a feather flock together and you should be in jail too.”

Mr Sheppard’s speech will include a line-by-line comparison of the respective codes of ethics, in which he plans to “take the p*ss” out of both professions and the way they describe themselves. 

“Just because I’m saying lawyers have a bad basic framework doesn’t mean every single lawyer is bad.”

Debate organiser Michael Masterson, chairman of IENZ, says attracting colourful characters such as Messrs Sheppard and Henaghan has helped attract strong interest in the debate.

“I think it’s critical to have those strong personalities.  Like anything, just because someone’s a lawyer or accountant doesn’t make them necessarily interesting.  Bruce and Mark are quite similar in many ways but in other ways they’re very different.”

Mr Masterson says the event is close to selling out, with all platinum and gold tables gone and the remaining silver tables likely to be snapped up within a week.

With inside knowledge of both teams’ arguments, he promises an entertaining event that will provide an alternative to a night out at the rugby or opera.

“They are going to be very different presentations with different debate styles.  They’ll be attacking it from very different angles.

“I want people to wake up the next day with a sore head from drinking a bit too much, a sore jaw from laughing and a sore brain from thinking too much.”

Preparations are already underway for next year’s event, which will pit politicians against journalists.

nkloeten@nbr.co.nz