A lawyer who provided a client substandard advice has been censured and fined $2,000 by a lawyers standards committee.
The lawyer, A, was also ordered to pay the client $5,000 compensation and the New Zealand Law Society $2,500 costs.
The Legal Complaints Review Officer upheld the findings of the standards committee and also ordered that A must write off any fees unpaid by the client.
After the client complained, the standards committee determined that there had been unsatisfactory conduct on A’s part.
In submissions to the committee, the client said she had expended a considerable sum of money pursuing legal remedies on the advice of A in circumstances where there were no prospects of success.
The client said that having subsequently sought a second opinion, she was told that the claims that she had been pursuing were without merit. She considered that was why legal aid was declined and why she was also advised to abandon the claims. Until she received that advice, she was led to believe otherwise by A.
The standards committee, in considering penalties, noted that the client had incurred significant losses as a result of following A’s advice that she should pursue what transpired to be unmeritorious claims.
The standards committee acknowledged that the costs incurred by the client could actually have been significantly greater had two government departments elected to seek an award of costs against her.
The standards committee noted that A appeared not to accept much, if any, responsibility for providing the client with negligent advice.
“It seems to me that [the client] should not have to pay for substandard advice and some remedy should be available to [the client] in this regard,” the LCRO said.
“I do not consider [the client] should be pursued for fees rendered in respect of the advice complained about which remain unpaid. An order to that effect will therefore follow. By way of clarification this order is in addition to the order made by the standards committee that [A] pay to the sum of $5,000 to [the client] by way of compensation,” the LCRO said.
The standards committee noted that most of the conduct complained about happened before the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 came into force, which meant that the conduct needed to be considered under the Law Practitioners Act 1982 (LPA). The maximum compensation order that can be made under the LPA is $5,000 and the maximum fine is $2,000.
The standards committee considered whether or not it should order publication of A’s name, but reached the view that it would be “manifestly unjust to publish [A]’s name more than four years after [the client] made her complaint”.
As well as confirming the standards committee’s orders, the LCRO ordered A to pay the Law Society costs of $900.