New Zealand Law Society - Poor communication leads to a finding of unsatisfactory conduct

Poor communication leads to a finding of unsatisfactory conduct

A lawyer who failed to respond to his client’s enquiries in a timely manner has been found to have engaged in unsatisfactory conduct and fined $1,000 by a Standards Committee.

The client contacted the lawyer on several occasions to ascertain whether a Court hearing was proceeding but the lawyer failed to respond. The day before the hearing was scheduled to proceed the lawyer informed the client that he had been previously advised by the Court that the hearing had been rescheduled.

The hearing was then delayed until further notice due to delays associated with COVID-19.  The client sent the lawyer several emails over the following months asking for an update but received no response.

The Committee took into consideration the uncertain and unpredictable nature of COVID-19 at that time, and the difficulty the lawyer would have faced to provide his client with a specific timeframe for when the hearing would proceed. However, the Committee also considered that the lawyer’s communication with his client on the whole was inadequate, and as such, determined that the lawyer had breached rr 3, 3.2 and 3.3 of the Conduct and Client Care Rules.

In its determination the Committee said that the lawyer should have made more of an effort to reply to the client’s queries and emails in a timely manner, notifying him without delay that the Court hearing had been rescheduled, and updating him on progress throughout the retainer, particularly as the client was understandably anxious to know when the hearing would proceed.

Accordingly, the Committee resolved that the lawyer had engaged in unsatisfactory conduct pursuant to sections 12a and 152(2)(b) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and ordered the lawyer to pay a fine of $1,000. As part of the Committee’s penalty considerations, it took into account the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.