New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Censured for misleading billing practices

Lawyers Complaints Service: Censured for misleading billing practices

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Paul Brian Currie has been censured by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal for charging office expenses as a set percentage of the fee value and adding an uplift to Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) disbursements without disclosing this to clients.

In [2015] NZLCDT 15, the Tribunal also ordered Mr Currie to refund, with an explanatory apology, the specific portions of fees charged as an uplift on LINZ disbursements to each of the clients identified in a schedule attached to a Law Society inspector’s report.

Mr Currie did not set out in his invoices as a separate item the “agency” portion of the charge, the Tribunal noted in its decision.

“The respondent admitted that he had continued a practice that had been in place when he was an employee of two major Christchurch law firms prior to commencing practise on his own account as a sole practitioner,” the Tribunal said.

“The method had been disapproved of by the New Zealand Law Society for some years. Material had been published to educate practitioners about it.”

Mr Currie had failed to heed the advice from the Property Law Section and continued to use the outdated system.

Mr Currie “immediately ceased the practice once he had been confronted about it. He has readily admitted the charge of unsatisfactory conduct.”

The Tribunal noted that the enquiry involved transactions over a period of 12 months where the total expenses charged were $31,661.63 being 9% of total fees of $349,017.50. Those sums, the Tribunal said, justified the lawyers standards committee referring the charges to it.

As well as the censure and refund orders, the Tribunal ordered Mr Currie to undergo practical training or education at his own cost, in the form of a personal training session with a Law Society inspector. This training is to address engagement, reporting to and charging fees and disbursements to clients.

The Tribunal also ordered Mr Currie to pay $9,141.29 standards committee costs and $2,534 Tribunal costs.

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