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Lawyer failed to file legal aid application

31 March 2017

A lawyer who failed to file a client’s application for legal aid, despite repeated assurances he was going to, has been found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct by a lawyer’s standards committee.

“The committee was of the view that this was conduct that fell short of the competence and diligence that a member of the public is entitled to expect of a reasonably competent lawyer,” the committee said.

It also found the lawyer’s conduct was unsatisfactory because he failed to inform the client she may be eligible for legal aid and whether he was prepared to act for her.

The client, Ms B, approached the lawyer’s firm after she failed her first course of study at a professional college. The lawyer, E, agreed to act on her behalf.

An appeal of the college’s decision was heard by the Appeals Committee, which upheld the college’s decision.

E filed proceedings in the High Court seeking an interim order pending the substantive judicial review decision. The High Court declined to issue the interim relief and the college reached a settlement with Ms B. The settlement included a clause where the college would make a contribution towards Ms B’s legal fees.

In response to the complaint, E said he did not accept that Ms B was not advised of legal aid. Ms B said that she had repeatedly asked E to apply for legal aid, and that she had filled out and gave the firm the appropriate forms.

A series of emails between Ms B and lawyers at the firm specifically referred to Ms B’s request for legal aid.

“The committee considers that the emails clearly disclose that [E] did not follow his client’s instructions and apply for legal aid on her behalf,” the committee said.

“Despite numerous requests to do so, [E] failed to follow those instructions. Moreover, he led Ms [B] to believe that he had the matter in hand and that she need not concern herself further.”

The committee found that E’s repeated failure to address Ms B’s concerns and answer her questions about legal aid meant he had failed to inform Ms B she may be eligible for legal aid and whether he was prepared to act for her on that basis.

The committee noted that E invoiced Ms B $10,637 including GST. After the college’s contribution, she had a balance of $5,058 owing. Ms B paid $300 towards her legal fees.

The committee ordered E to reduce the invoice of $10,637 to $5,278, to refund Ms B $300 and to pay $1,200 costs.

Last updated on the 31st March 2017