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Barrister ordered to refund $55,500

15 August 2014

A client paid a barrister, C, $69,000 fees for assistance with two matters. C failed to invoice the client, account for the money, complete the retainer, or keep the client informed.

The client instructed C to assist her with an investigation into her partner’s death as a result of a vehicle accident, in relation to a Coroner’s inquest. The client was also involved in an assault case and she sought his assistance with that matter too.

C told her that the first matter would require about $50,000 to resolve, and the assault about $20,000.

The client paid first $3,000, then $6,000, then two payments of $30,000, directly to C. The client said she did not receive any receipts, nor was any invoice ever rendered.

The assault case was resolved relatively promptly, on the hearing date. The client was ordered to pay reparation of $600, and $650 in court costs.

Two members of C’s staff commenced an investigation into the other matter, but it did not proceed very far.

The client sought receipts for the payments made and invoices for the services rendered. None were forthcoming. The client complained to the Law Society.

The standards committee considered whether C had charged a fair and reasonable fee for the work on both matters. No invoices had been rendered, and C did not engage with the committee or produce his files, despite being served with a notice to do so under s147(2)(a) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

Without the benefit of C’s file, the committee was obliged to consider what might have been a reasonable fee in the circumstances, considering the amount of work the matters would have required.

A reasonable fee for the assault charge, considering C’s seniority, and the travel and preparation involved, was determined to be $10,350. The committee considered a reasonable charge-out would be $750 (reduced from C’s rate of $1,000), and allowed time for preparation even though the matter had been resolved promptly on the day of the hearing.

With respect to the second matter, the committee found that the time spent on investigations by two people, one of them non-legally qualified, was excessive. The committee determined that this work could be charged at about $150 per hour for about eight hours.

The committee accepted an allowance of two hours’ supervision time for C. The committee estimated that the work completed amounted to about $3,000 in fees, including GST.

As a result, in total, a reasonable fee for both matters combined, including GST and disbursements, was assessed at about $13,500. C was ordered to refund the remaining $55,500.

The committee considered whether C had failed to complete the retainer in respect of the investigation into the client’s partner’s death, or to provide receipts and invoices, in breach of Rules 4.2 and 9.6 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008. The committee determined that C had breached these rules, and that this was unsatisfactory conduct.

The committee also considered whether C had an instructing solicitor and whether he had ensured the sums were deposited into a solicitor’s trust account. On the evidence, the committee could not determine whether C had breached these requirements.

As well as the order to refund the client $55,500, C was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $1,500 costs.

Last updated on the 15th August 2016