Man pays lawyer’s costs in hopeless VCAT Legal Practice List case

The Legal Services Commissioner is considerably better than were the Law Institute’s Professional Standards or the Legal Ombudsman at declining to give the time of day to self-evidently unmeritorious complaints against solicitors. Mind you, she has better discretions allowing her to do so under the Legal Profession Act, 2004. I don’t know what path George Anderson’s Case [2007] VCAT 383 took to get to VCAT, but it sounds like it really should not have been allowed to travel so far along the dispute resolution process. Once in VCAT, it was given short shrift and dismissed with an order that Mr Anderson pay the sued solicitor’s costs. What caught my eye, though, was the recital in the reasons without adverse comment of an eminent counsel’s drafting of a notice of appeal to the High Court and its provision to Mr Anderson under cover of a refusal to sign it. That brings to mind my earlier post on unbundled legal services and recent American treatment of the issue in case law. The practice has recently been the subject of criticism after thorough review of the American authorities in Delso v. Trustees for Plan of Merck & Co., Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16643 (D.N.J. March 5, 2007). Legal Profession Blog’s take is here, and Freivogel on Conflicts Blog abstracts the case like this:

Although the plaintiff was appearing pro se, the defendants moved to disqualify a lawyer who was ghostwriting the plaintiff’s pleadings. In a routine former client/substantial relationship analysis, the court found no such relationship and denied the motion for that reason. The court did, however, make a finding that undisclosed ghostwriting violates several ethics rules and the spirit of FRCP Rule 11 and should not be permitted in the District of New Jersey. The court also ordered that the lawyer either make a formal appearance for the plaintiff or stop communicating with her about the case. This opinion contains a comprehensive review of ghostwriting around the country.

Back to the facts of the case, though. Basically, Mr Anderson went to the solicitor seeking to appeal a decision of the Full Family Court to the High Court, out of time. The solicitor said — don’t bother. A barrister agreed. Mr Anderson insisted. The lawyers ceased to act with a long letter of advice. The lawyers charged $2,444. Mr Anderson’s special leave application failed. He sought a refund of the fees on the basis that he had got nothing for them. The suit bombed out, and now he had to pay the solicitor’s costs of the proceeding.

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