Keith Jefferies who was acting as an instructing solicitor has been censured and fined $3,000 for failing to pay the fees of a barrister.
The barrister complained that Mr Jefferies did not pay her fees promptly and in full as required under rule 10.7 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008.
The lawyers standards committee dealing with the matter also ordered Mr Jefferies to rectify his omission by paying the barrister her outstanding fees of over $35,900.
“The standards committee was satisfied that Mr Jefferies’ conduct, in failing to pay the reasonable fees of a fellow practitioner, clearly fell below the standard expected of a lawyer, and that the profession, and the public at large, were entitled to be made aware of the conduct,” the committee said.
Mr Jefferies instructed the barrister to perform work relating to civil proceedings brought against a Mr and Mrs C in the High Court.
The work was completed and the barrister rendered three invoices to Mr Jefferies. The invoices were not paid.
Mr Jefferies alleged that he was not responsible for the fees, as a separate fee arrangement was in place between the barrister and Mr and Mrs C.
“However, Mr Jefferies had failed to provide any credible evidence to substantiate his claim that any relevant agreement was entered into, including when it may have occurred and how it was concluded,” the committee said.
The failure to pay fees, the committee found, was unsatisfactory conduct.
At a hearing on further orders and publication, the committee noted that Mr Jefferies had, following the issue of the determination, agreed to pay the barrister’s fees in full.
“The standards committee was pleased that Mr Jefferies had acknowledged his responsibility for [the barrister]’s fees,” it said.
At the same time, Mr Jefferies had refused to pay the barrister for a “considerable amount of time, and had continued to dispute his responsibility for the fees throughout the complaints process”.
The committee ordered publication of the facts of the matter, including Mr Jefferies’ name. It noted that “r 10.7 was in place to protect barristers – who are not entitled to sue for their fees – and it was therefore important to promote adherence to this rule amongst the legal profession”
The committee also ordered Mr Jefferies to pay $1,500 costs.