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Failed to respond to client in timely manner

01 December 2017

[Names used in this article are fictitious]

A lawyer who failed to respond to his client’s enquiries in a timely manner has been reprimanded and fined $1,000 by a lawyers standards committee.

The lawyer, Woodville, was acting on immigration issues for a client, Mr J, and the client’s partner, Ms K.

Woodville applied to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) for a visa under s 61 of the Immigration Act 2009 for Mr J and Ms K, who were in New Zealand unlawfully. This application was declined.

Woodville then applied for a second time, and this application was also declined.

Mr J claimed that Woodville informed him that another application would be made to both the Minister of Immigration and the Ombudsman. However, Woodville did not apply to the minister nor the Ombudsman, and instead lodged a complaint with INZ’s Deputy Secretary.

Mr J claimed he sent Woodville numerous requests for information and updates but never received any response.

Mr J subsequently met with Woodville, who informed him that INZ’s Deputy Secretary had declined to consider the complaint. On receiving a copy of the Deputy Secretary’s letter Mr J noticed it was dated approximately three months earlier.

Mr J subsequently wrote to Woodville requesting his file and a refund, both of which Woodville provided.

The committee said that:

  • Woodville failed to respond to enquiries from Mr J is a timely manner, breaching rule 3.2 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC); and
  • Woodville failed to inform Mr J of any material and unexpected delays in Mr J’s matter, breaching rule 3.3 of the RCCC.

That constituted unsatisfactory conduct, the committee found.

“While [Woodville] maintained throughout his correspondence with the Lawyers Complaints Service that he had kept Mr [J] informed at all times, this does not necessary mean he responded to enquiries from Mr [J] in a timely manner as required under rule 3.2 of the RCCC,” the committee said.

“In fact, it was clear from the materials provided that numerous enquiries from Mr [J] went unanswered for significant periods of time or were not responded to at all.”

It was “unacceptable” for Woodville to be aware that INZ’s Deputy Secretary had declined to consider Mr J’s complaint and not inform Mr J until approximately three months later.

“Mr [J] was left labouring under the false impression that he may have a chance of success when, in fact, he did not,” the committee said.

“Further, the extent of Woodville’s delay also resulted in time lost during which Mr [J] could have been exploring other options.”

As well as the reprimand and fine, Woodville was ordered to pay $950 costs.

Last updated on the 1st December 2017