The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has censured Porirua lawyer Papali'i Toti Lagolago after finding her guilty of negligence and bringing the profession into disrepute.
In addition to the censure, she was ordered to pay the New Zealand Law Society costs of $12,000, to reimburse hearing costs of $16,514 and to reduce her legal fees by $14,000. She is also subject to a mentoring order for a period of twelve months that will see her unable to accept instructions relating to civil litigation matters without prior approval of her mentor.
The charge relates to advice Ms Lagolago gave to her clients regarding a debt owed to a finance company, and her representation of them during a District Court civil proceeding.
The two-day hearing could have been satisfactorily resolved in the Disputes Tribunal that would have come at a reduced cost to Ms Lagolago's clients.
Ms Lagolago's clients were not properly informed of the objective merits of their case and thus didn't fully understand the risks of proceeding, the Tribunal found.
"The relationship between lawyers and their clients is extremely important. Lawyers are required at all times to ensure they act in their client's best interests," New Zealand Law Society President Chris Moore says.
"Whether that's keeping clients fully informed or reducing costs where possible, it's important for lawyers to maintain the highest standards of professionalism and to do everything in their power to uphold the integrity of the profession."
Ms Lagolago is appealing the Tribunal's findings to the High Court.