A barrister, D, failed to respond to queries about the manner in which he had charged his client $38,000 for representation in a criminal case. An investigation by a lawyers standards committee revealed that D had failed to render a final invoice and account of work undertaken and had deducted fees without rendering adequate invoices. The standards committee determined that this was unsatisfactory conduct.
The committee fined D $3,500 and ordered him to pay $1,500 costs.
The managing director of a company paid funds totalling $43,750 to the trust account of D’s instructing solicitor.
The instruction was in relation to drugs charges against three individuals and two related companies.
D acted for the clients for 18 months before the managing director of the client companies changed to new counsel.
Client care letters were sent at the beginning of the instruction, in which D’s fee of $1,000 per hour plus GST was agreed.
However, the clients reported that they received no invoices, and that they sought invoices and the return of any amount which was surplus to the amounts on the invoices. Despite numerous telephone calls and email requests, the managing director received no response from D. The clients complained to the Law Society.
The standards committee resolved to investigate, and appointed a costs assessor. Only one invoice for $10,000 was found. The file, however, did disclose a considerable amount of work had been done by D and his staff.
The committee considered the detail of the file, the seriousness of the charges, the amount of work carried out, and noted that D’s fee had been agreed at $1,000 per hour.
The standards committee was unable to say that a fee which would have left no surplus from the payment of $43,750 was excessive in the circumstances.
However the failure to render invoices, and the failure to respond to the client’s queries were unsatisfactory conduct, the committee determined.
These actions were in breach of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008, in particular Rule 3.2 (failure to respond to clients in a timely manner), Rule 9.3 (debiting fees without rendering invoices), and Rule 9.6 (failure to render a final account).