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Failure to properly administer practice

02 March 2018

[Names used in this article are ficticious]

A partner of a law firm, Boult, has been fined $500 for failing to ensure that the duties to a client were adhered to.

A client instructed Boult’s firm to act for him because he did not accept orders made by the Māori Land Court about interpretation of a will.

The client complained that the firm took over five years and had produced no results.

A lawyer employed by Boult’s firm took the matter up. The standards committee said it appeared the lawyer had pursued the matter “with diligence” until he left the firm the following year.

Boult wrote to the client saying the firm would be happy to continue to act, but was not in a position to accept legal aid instructions. Boult asked how the client would like to proceed.

The committee noted that Boult was entitled to terminate the retainer at that point. However, he did not do so and the matter drifted.

Another lawyer, Gurney, later joined the firm and took over the file. By that time the Māori Land Court investigation had been completed. “At that stage it was clear that work was needed on the file,” the committee noted.

It became apparent four years after the firm was engaged that Gurney would not be able to meet the Legal Service Agency’s requirements to handle the matter.

“At that stage, there ought to have been a clear decision as to the future of the firm with regard to the file,” the committee said. “Proper management might have required the firm to write to [the client] advising him either that the firm was terminating the retainer because no fee arrangements has been made or the firm would continue on a pro bono basis or the firm would assist [the client] to find another lawyer.”

Instead, Gurney tried to struggle through. He did this without proper fee arrangements having been made. The work involved him preparing and filing submissions, then instructing another lawyer, and then seeking alternative counsel.

Gurney’s efforts on behalf of the client were “extensive” and the client had never been billed for the time, the committee noted.

“Non costing of such time is, in itself, an indication of lack of proper management unless there was a clear decision to proceed on a pro bono basis.”

Overall, it was apparent that Gurney did not properly   manage the file, although that deficit had largely been balanced out by Gurney’s efforts and the fact that Gurney’s time was not charged.

Boult ought to have played a “greater role in supervising the file”, the committee said.

The committee found that Boult did not administer his practice in a manner that ensured his duty to the client was adhered to.

That constituted unsatisfactory conduct. As well as the fine, Boult was ordered to pay $500 costs.

Last updated on the 2nd March 2018