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Lawyers responsible for partnership obligations

04 May 2018

[All names used in this article are fictitious]

All lawyers must take personal responsibility to ensure professional obligations are adhered to, the Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO) said when confirming a lawyers standards committee decision.

The committee fined all three partners of a law firm (firm A) $3,500 each for failing to comply with an LCRO order.

In February 2013 the LCRO ordered a lawyer employed by firm A to reduce his fees to Mr and Mrs Burley to $7,000 including GST and disbursements.  This was a refund of $10,423.

The LCRO noted that the lawyer was no longer employed by firm A . The LCRO also said that if the parties were unable to agree the amount to be refunded, leave was granted to apply to the LCRO for the matter to be determined and the order amended to record the amount to be repaid.

In October 2015, Mr Burley wrote to the Lawyers Complaints Service advising that firm A had failed to comply with the order. The complaints service treated the letter as a complaint  against each of the three partners of the firm, the managing partner, Westlock, and the two other partners, Quinion and Hutley.

Committee decision

A standards committee found unsatisfactory conduct by the trio, and as well as the fines of $3,500 each, ordered each partner to pay $1,000 costs.

The committee noted that firm A’s partners had all the relevant information to calculate the amount to be refunded to Mr and Mrs Burley.

“The partners did not do so. Instead, it seems, they did nothing but deny they were liable to refund any amounts,” the committee said.

“The partners had every opportunity to object to the finding made by the LCRO or to seek an amendment of the LCRO’s decision.

“The partners instead objected to the jurisdiction of the LCRO and the process followed by the LCRO.

“To suggest that the LCRO has no power to make such orders under the [Lawyers and Conveyancers] Act [2006] would seriously undermine the purpose of the LCRO to review decisions of the standards committees,” the committee said.

LCRO review

Quinion and Hutley sought a review of the committee’s decision.

In LCRO 227/2016 (6 November 2017), the LCRO confirmed the committee’s determination.

Quinion and Hutley said that they did not realise the duty to comply with the LCRO decision rested with them as individuals nor that they were exposed to sanctions for failing to do so, the LCRO said.

In response the LCRO said, “All lawyers must make sure they are aware of their professional responsibilities in whatever capacity they practise in the profession of law. No other person has a duty to make sure that they have the requisite knowledge.”

All lawyers “must assume personal responsibility for their professional obligations and (in this case) partnership obligations (to ensure payment was made)”.

The LCRO also said that a failure to comply with disciplinary orders “must be viewed seriously”.

“I accept the applicants failed to appreciate they were exposed to disciplinary consequences for themselves, but their failure to do so is not something that is in their favour.”

As well as confirming the standards committee determination, the LCRO ordered Quinion and Hutley to pay $1,600 costs, noting that the order was against the applicants jointly and severally and that the costs order may be enforced in the District Court.

Last updated on the 4th May 2018