A lawyer’s conduct has been found to have been unsatisfactory where he failed to act competently and in a timely manner in respect of a client’s affairs and also in responding to his regulator following a subsequent complaint about his conduct made to the Lawyers Complaints Service (LCS) by the same client.
A Standards Committee (Committee) determined that the lawyer failed to act in a competent and timely manner in relation to the finalising of the sale of a property owned by a family trust. Although the sale completed in December, the lawyer failed to deposit the proceeds of sale into the client’s account until the following September, after the client had already complained to the LCS in June. Although the client subsequently withdrew their complaint, the Committee resolved to continue its inquiry given the lawyer’s acknowledgement of significant delay and his continued lack of explanation for it, which the Committee considered raised concerns about his overall professional conduct and competent service to clients.
The Committee considered that the lawyer failed to treat his client with respect and courtesy in not responding to his client’s communications without any explanation given, and in failing to explain to his client the reasons for the delay in finalising the sale of the property.
The Committee considered that a lawyer’s requirement to treat a client with respect and courtesy and to progress matters efficiently are fundamental to competent legal practice, and at a minimum, any client must reasonably expect their enquiries be responded to timeously. And if this is not possible, then a lawyer is required to advise their client of this.
The Committee also concluded that the lawyer’s delay of five months in responding to the LCS in respect of the client’s complaint was not acceptable for the Standards Committee process. Further, it considered that his failure to provide submissions to the Committee in response to the Notice of Hearing, having indicated to the Committee that he was going to do so (and having applied for and been granted an extension for that purpose), indicated a pattern of behaviour of a lawyer failing to meet his professional obligations towards his regulator (in breach of r 10.14).
The Committee determined that the lawyer’s failures in respect of the service provided to his client, and the failures in respect of his professional obligations towards the New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa, amounted to unsatisfactory conduct.
It ordered the lawyer be censured and pay a fine of $2,000 and costs of $500 to the Law Society. Further, the Committee considered that there was strong public interest in the outcome of this complaint and wished to raise awareness in the profession of the importance of responsibility and acting in a timely manner.