Praag v W & T Lawyers  VCAT 307 was a rare thing: a case in VCAT’s Legal Practice List actually prosecuted pursuant to the Legal Profession Act, 2004. Mr Praag was his late mother’s executor. Before her death, she lived in Canberra. Her assets were a house in Canberra and $50,000 cash. Mr Praag went to the respondent solicitors who said they would get probate of the will for $2,800. The scale cost for doing so was $499. They did not otherwise comply with the costs disclosure regime in the Legal Profession Act, 2004. In fact it was unnecessary to get probate in Victoria, and it would have been better to have got it in the ACT. Though Mr Praag was able to withdraw the cash from the Bank with the Victorian parchment, he was unable to deal with the house unless he resealed the probate in ACT, which cost a bit extra on top of the cost of getting probate. Member Butcher mentioned several ‘concerns’ he had before concluding:
‘In all I am concerned that the legal practitioner has not done the right thing by Mr Praag on a variety of levels. Having regard to all of the above I am satisfied that it is appropriate to order that the account rendered by the respondent to the applicant dated 19 October 2006 is cancelled and the respondent is ordered to pay the sum of $2,800.00 to the applicant forthwith’
Sounds a bit harsh, really, until you notice that the solicitors did not appear at the hearing. Had the solicitors turned up, they might have made an argument that they did what they agreed to do successfully for the amount the client was prepared to pay, though whether such an argument would have been available to them we can only guess at on the facts recorded in the brief reasons. If a client knows in advance exactly how much a job is going to cost, and agrees to that fee, all the other costs disclosures (like who within the firm is going to do the work, that itemised bills must be sought within 30 days, and that interest will accrue at a certain rate on unpaid bills) are subsidiary, and a failure to make them would not, in many cases, justify keeping the lawyer out of his fees altogether. Compare, for example, the Court of Appeal’s guidance on this issue in Equuscorp Pty Ltd v Wilmoth Field Warne (a firm)  VSCA 280 (discussed by Legal Eagle here).