New Zealand Law Society - Failed to provide adequate invoice

Failed to provide adequate invoice

Published on 3 April 2020

[All names are fictitious.]

A lawyers standards committee has fined a partner of a law firm, Guernsey, for significant delays in providing adequate invoices to the beneficiaries of a will.

Mr Alderney, the brother of the deceased, represented three beneficiaries of the estate. Mr Alderney, himself, was not a beneficiary.

Mr Alderney made written requests for copies of invoices billed to the estate between 19 February 2014 and 9 October 2015.

Four and a half months after the first request, an employed solicitor at the firm emailed the relevant invoices to Mr Alderney. The narration on the invoices simply stated, “for professional services”.

On 9 October 2015, more than a year and a half after first trying to get details of the professional services, which the beneficiaries had repeatedly requested and which had been assured would be made available to them, they had still not been supplied to Mr Alderney by the firm.

Mr Alderney then again requested invoices “including the nature of the work performed (not merely professional services), when, and the time taken on each activity, and the rates that have been charged without further delay”.

Long delay was unsatisfactory conduct

The committee found that the long delay in failing to provide adequate invoices was unsatisfactory conduct.

While it appeared that other, apparently senior lawyers, had primarily dealt with the file and the estate, the committee found that the partner, Guernsey, as the firm’s estate administration partner, was ultimately responsible for the delay.

“While the committee had some sympathy for [Guernsey]’s position given the apparent seniority of the employed lawyers who were primarily working on the file, the committee considered that [Guernsey] did not fully discharge his supervisory responsibilities,” the committee said.

“It was not apparent to the committee that the firm had an internal system in place to ensure that requests such as [this one] were referred to the appropriate supervising partner of the firm.

“Had any such system been in place, the fact of [the] requests ought to have come to the attention of [Guernsey] much earlier, rather than having only been known by the employed lawyers working on the file.

As well a fine of $1,000, Guernsey was ordered to pay $2,500 costs.