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Tardy lawyers censured over delayed application

01 December 2017

[Names used in this article are fictitious]

Two lawyers have been censured for failing to act in a timely manner for the same client.

A lawyers standards committee determined that this failure by each of the lawyers was unsatisfactory conduct.

The client contacted the first lawyer, Coleville, in December 2014 about a debt of $16,200 owed to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) relating to overpayment of accommodation supplement and temporary additional support.

The client asked Coleville to ascertain why the debt had been established and gain information from Work and Income to that effect.

MSD had advised the client on 24 November 2014 that she could apply for a review of its decision. The application had to be made within three months (by 24 February 2015).

In April 2015, the client contacted Coleville asking what steps she had taken with MSD. The client then contacted Coleville’s supervising lawyer, Oswald, because she was dissatisfied with the lack of response she had received from Coleville and with the lawyer’s communication.

Oswald took over management of the file, and the lawyers standards committee said that “it appears no further steps were undertaken by him until June 2016”.

In the meantime, in May 2015, Coleville contacted Work and Income and requested disclosure of the information regarding overpayment. MSD provided disclosure in late June 2015.

On 11 July 2016, MSD received an application for a review of its decision. In the application Oswald advised that the delay was not any fault of the client, but solely the responsibility of her legal advisors. The application asked that, under the circumstances, consideration should be given to allowing the client’s application to proceed out of time.

MSD responded on 6 September 2016 declining the review and giving reasons for its decision.

In response to the allegations she had failed to inform the client of progress and failed to act in a timely manner, Coleville said she had not received the required information from the client, that she was very busy and it was not up to her to chase clients.

The committee noted that it was “clear” that Coleville did not take note of the timeframe for the review, and that the delay was of “significant length”.

Coleville “compounded this failure to act in a timely manner by advising [the client] that it was not up to her to chase her clients,” the committee said.

After Oswald took over the file from Coleville, he had two opportunities to file an application for review but failed to do so.

The committee said Oswald “has acknowledged that he failed to note the dates when documentation needed to be filed and has accepted that he was at fault”.

As well as censuring each lawyer, the committee also ordered each to pay $500 costs.

Last updated on the 1st December 2017