New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer breaches undertaking to limit his areas of practice

Lawyer breaches undertaking to limit his areas of practice

A Standards Committee found that a lawyer breached an undertaking he had given to a Practice Approval Committee (PAC) to limit his work to a particular area of the law. It determined that amounted to unsatisfactory conduct. It censured him and ordered him to pay a fine of $3,000 as well as costs.

The Committee had opened an investigation into the lawyer’s conduct after he filed a statement of claim (against third party) in court proceedings relating to a debt dispute, despite having undertaken to limit his practice to immigration law. The lawyer had given the undertaking to a Practice Approval Committee (PAC) in order to obtain a practising certificate allowing him to practice on his own account. 

The requirements for practising on own account include criteria for practical legal experience and suitability. Where there is any doubt as to whether an applicant meets the criteria, the application is referred to one of the PACs of the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa. In appropriate cases, a PAC will request a voluntary undertaking from the applicant in order to be satisfied it is appropriate to approve the application.

The lawyer’s explanation of the work in connection with the statement of claim was that it related to a complex immigration case he was acting in, he wanted to help defend the client in the debt claim, that he was involved in the court proceedings on a personal level and that he had not charged the client for the work.

The Standards Committee, however, concluded that whether or not the lawyer received payment for the work was irrelevant. It decided that, as the statement of claim work was outside the area of immigration law, the lawyer had breached his undertaking to PAC. 

The Committee reiterated the fundamental importance of lawyers complying with undertakings they have given. It also commented on the purpose of undertakings to a PAC. It noted that the undertaking related to a condition of the lawyer’s practice. It said that the lawyer had been granted a practising certificate to practice on his own account in reliance on that undertaking. “The purpose of such undertakings and conditions of practice is to protect the public.”

The Committee concluded that the lawyer had breached the rule on undertakings in the Conduct and Client Care Rules (now rule 10.5). It determined that amounted to unsatisfactory conduct under sections 12(c) (breach of rules) and/or 12(d) (failure to comply with a condition or restriction of practising certificate) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006. The Committee censured the lawyer, fined him $3,000 and ordered him to pay $1,500 in costs.