New Zealand Law Society - Breach of intervention and fees rules

Breach of intervention and fees rules

Published on 10 September 2020

A barrister, B, has been censured and fined $4,000 by a lawyers standards committee for a series of failures.

B began representing a client, Ms A, on three matters: an assault charge, a kidnapping charge, and two complaints she wished to lodge with the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

After B had undertaken some work on some of the matters, Ms A said that B did not respond to her phone calls and did not provide her with regular updates or information she required.

She reached her “wits end” and engaged another barrister to represent her on the assault and kidnapping charges.

Ms A also complained about the costs she has incurred in engaging B and the quality of the services she received from him.

The committee found that B’s conduct was unsatisfactory in the following ways:

  • B’s terms of engagement were “woefully inadequate”. These were generic and pro forma and some of the information included was outdated and incorrect. There was no mention of hourly rates nor what the fee might be for the task B was being asked to complete.
  • There was no instructing solicitor. Despite B talking to the client about the need for an instructing solicitor “it is clear that the instructing solicitor played no role at all,” the committee said. “This is a clear breach of the intervention rule.”
  • The client paid funds directly to B. They should have been paid and receipted to the instructing solicitor. Invoices should have been generated and only after they had been sent to the client should payment have been made on those invoices.
  • It was clear that fees were paid in advance in some instances.

“As to the reasonableness of the fee actually rendered, Ms [A] says she had paid $5,000 and the case has not been progressed,” the committee said. Another barrister was now assisting Ms A with the assault and kidnapping matters and the fee charged for the two IPCA complaints seemed excessive.

As well as the censure, fine and order to repay Ms A $5,000, B was ordered to provide Ms A a formal letter of apology, cancel four accounts totaling approximately $6,800, and pay $1,000 costs.

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