LawFuel – Legal Jobs wire – Lawyers need to be mindful of their potential vulnerability to unsatisfactory conduct complaints, warns the society’s Public Issues Committee in a paper entitled What are the costs to lawyers and clients of complying with the new compulsory client regime?
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There are two reasons why lawyers need to be aware of the requirements of the new regime that came into force with the implementation of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers on August 1, the committee says.
“First because, the concept of unsatisfactory conduct is new and, in the early stages of the implementation of the new regime, lawyers may not be able to ascertain whether they have complied with their client care responsibilities until after their conduct has been scrutinised by a Standards Committee at an unsatisfactory conduct hearing.”
The second reason is because the act gives the recently formed Standards Committee the power to impose a range of potentially time consuming and costly sanctions on lawyers found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct.
Under s156 of the act the Standards Committee can:
(a) make an order giving effect to any or all of the terms of an agreed settlement;
(b) make an order censuring or reprimanding a lawyer;
(c) order a lawyer to apologise to a complainant;
(d) order a lawyer to pay compensation of up to $25,000 to anyone suffering loss resulting from the lawyer’s acts or omissions;
(e) order the reduction, cancellation or refund of a lawyer’s fees;
(f) order a lawyer to rectify errors or omissions, or to provide relief from the consequences of errors or omissions;
(g) order a lawyer to pay a fine of up to $15,000;
(h) order an inspection of a lawyer’s practice;
(i) order a lawyer to undergo training or education or to take advice on practice management;
(j) order a lawyer to pay the costs and expenses of any inquiry, investigation or hearing conducted by the Standards Committee.
“No one knows how the public will respond to the new client care regime which is an unknown quantity,” the Public Issues Committee paper observes.
“Some clients may consider that the new act and Rules of Conduct give them a licence to bring trivial complaints before the Standards Committee.”
“The new client care regime is designed to ensure that lawyers take a consumer oriented approach towards their dealings with clients.
“Under the new consumer focussed regime, a lawyer ‘must, in advance [i.e. before commencing work on a retainer], provide a client with information in writing on the principal aspects of client service’ listed in Rules 3.4 and 3.5 of the Rules and s 94(j) of the act.”