New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer disciplined for unprofessional language

Lawyer disciplined for unprofessional language

A lawyer has been fined for calling a man “a thief and a crook” during a telephone conversation in which he was endeavouring to recover money owed to his client. The Standards Committee found that his behaviour was inconsistent with his obligations under Rule 12, and constituted unsatisfactory conduct. He was fined $2000, and costs of $1500. 

The client (Ms Z) had sold her car through a motor company, but a dispute arose in relation to the amount due to her.  Ms Z instructed the lawyer to act on her behalf and he sent correspondence to the car salesman demanding the balance of the sale proceeds.  When this had no effect, he telephoned the salesman and was, according to the complainant, “aggressive and unprofessional”.   The lawyer admitted that he may have used the words “thief” or “crook” during the conversation.

It was the Committee’s view that the use of these words, even allowing for the context in which they were spoken, was not consistent with a lawyer’s obligation, pursuant to Rule 12, to deal with others with integrity, respect and courtesy.

Accordingly, the Committee found that his behaviour constituted unsatisfactory conduct and he was fined $2,000 and made to pay costs of $1,500.