New Zealand Law Society - Communication with all clients vital

Communication with all clients vital

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A lawyer, N, told a standards committee that in future he will be “vigilant” in ensuring that all his clients are copied in on all correspondence.

The committee was considering a complaint from another lawyer, Mr O, that N had failed to:

  • Obtain consent from all three trustees of a family trust he acted for in relation to an insurance claim for damage to a property owned by the trust; and
  • Failed to consult with Mr O, who was a trustee of the trust, regarding a discharge of mortgage over the property.
  • Received invalid instructions to act on behalf of the trust;
  • Acted without proper authority as he was aware that Mr O was a trustee of the trust and solicitor of the trust.

The other two trustees were a Mr and Mrs K. N’s instructions “by and large came from Mr [K],” the committee noted.

“It is critical to the committee’s determination that Mr [K] assured [N] he was keeping his co-trustees, including Mr [O], fully informed.”

The committee also noted that Mr O signed the insurance settlement documentation without questioning it, and he would have been aware, at that time, that the mortgage had been released, given there was no mortgagee consent or mortgagee attestation on the insurance settlement documentation.

No further action on complaint

As a result, the committee decided to take no further action on the complaint.

“Wisely, [N] accepts in his submissions that it would have been better practice for him to ensure that all three trustees were copied at least by email with all significant correspondence concerning the instructions,” the committee said.

“However, [N] understood that Mr [K] was authorised by his co-trustees to instruct him and that Mr [K] was passing relevant information on to his co-trustees.”

While the committee accepted that Mr O had valid concerns, it considered that the issues raised could have been promptly resolved through courteous discussion.

“Adopting the consumer focus that is central to the Lawyers Complaints Service function, the committee is satisfied with [N]’s concession that he has learned a salutary lesson and will ensure that, in similar circumstances in the future, robust and meaningful communication is engaged,” the committee said.

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