How taxation is obtained out of time under the LPUL in NSW

In the last post, Justice Quigley extended time in which to seek taxation under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Vic) in unusual circumstances, by consent.  Curiously, a funny little case from NSW provides an echo: Stoltz v Peter Skidmore of Phoenix Legal Consulting Pty Limited [2021] NSWSC 1063 (funny choice of defendant, I must say, but Ms Stolz was unrepresented). Continue reading “How taxation is obtained out of time under the LPUL in NSW”

Supreme Court sets aside default judgment in Magistrates’ Court and refers the fees to taxation instead of remitting suit for fees

Davey v Costanzo Lawyers Ltd [2021] VSC 449 is episode # c. 898 in my series  about suits for fees, ‘Many a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip’.

A family law firm whose website modestly explains that they are the ‘best family lawyers’ sued its former client for professional costs and barristers’ fees for work done in 2018.  They got default judgment for about $40,000 in June 2019, but they forgot to plead that they did the work set out in the bill, that being left to be inferred from the fact that they gave a bill.

In July 2019, a judicial registrar refused an application to set the default judgment aside.  A Magistrate at Heidelberg, reviewing that decision, came to the same conclusion in August 2019.  Then the plaintiff hired counsel and applied again to the same Magistrate to set aside the judgment, and she said no, again, in February 2020.

The lawyers had thrice claimed successfully that there was no merit at all in the client’s defence.  But the client got a barrister, sought judicial review in the Supreme Court and jumped the arguable defence hurdle on the fourth attempt, clearing House v R in the same leap though it was strictly unnecessary to do so, and won on the basis that the complaint had been so badly pleaded that it did not make out a cause of action in debt, so that the default judgment was irregular and should have been set aside ex debito justitiae.  Then she got costs.

The decision is also of interest in relation to the circumstances in which a second application to set aside a default judgment might succeed.  Quigley J observed in dicta:

’36 The new or additional material argued before her Honour is set out above at [16]. Her Honour was sceptical that the matters identified were new or different. However, insofar as it is necessary to make any observation in this regard, it is apparent that a more cogent formulation of the basis of the potential defence(s) [was] articulated in this second application before her Honour. In my view, this may be sufficient to provide a change in circumstances from the situation which pertained before the Court on the first occasion.’

In other words, if you’re represented competently the second time and you self-represented the first time, that might be enough. Continue reading “Supreme Court sets aside default judgment in Magistrates’ Court and refers the fees to taxation instead of remitting suit for fees”

Taxation of costs of litigious matters where there is no valid costs agreement at all or where the costs agreement is void

In this post, I look at the law governing taxations of costs between lawyers and their clients, charged in litigation.  It used to be that where the costs agreement was void, or it was disregarded for the purposes of the taxation because of material costs disclosure defaults, or there was no costs agreement which covered the relevant work, the taxation would proceed according to the relevant court scale.

In two cases (Shi and Re Jabe), the Court has found that scale is the appropriate basis for taxing costs in this situation.  In others, where the Court considers that the client would not have done anything much differently had they obtained proper costs disclosure, and the costs charged were much the same as scale, or in accordance with what was being charged in a well-worked out market for a common kind of work, the Court has at an interlocutory stage told the lawyers that they can draw the bill of costs in taxable form by reference to the hourly rates in the void costs agreement, but that at the end of the day, the enquiry is what is fair and reasonable according to the criteria in s. 172 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law, noting also the considerations which may be taken into account in s. 200.

In other words, though the bill need not necessarily be drawn on scale anymore, nor is there the comfort that the lawyers will get at least scale.  They might get significantly less than scale.  Indeed, though I don’t know of it having been argued yet, they might get nothing, because, had the client been given proper disclosure they would never have embarked on the expensive exercise from which they gained no advantage.

Another thought: if the costs agreement is void, then though the hourly rate might still be able to be used for the purposes of the bill of costs in taxable form, the pernicious rounding up provisions in many costs agreements will be unavailable.  A bill where many one, two or three minute attendances are charged at one ‘unit’ of 6 minutes or part thereof, would only be able to claim a fraction of the fees which were actually billed.  Continue reading “Taxation of costs of litigious matters where there is no valid costs agreement at all or where the costs agreement is void”

Supreme Court flexes inherent jurisdiction of its own motion to require both parties’ lawyers’ costs to be taxed by the Costs Court on Scale

Pity the dozy lawyer who wanders innocently into Justice Cate McMillan’s court, bringing attitudes from days of yore about fees charged out of a great big fund.  Re Jabe; Kennedy v Schwarz [2021] VSC 106 should in my opinion be reported in the Victorian Reports as indicative of the breadth of and resilience to statutory incursion of the Court’s inherent jurisdiction.  The Court of its own motion sent both parties’ lawyers’ costs off to the Costs Court to be taxed on Scale, at the conclusion of a case, having found, on an inquiry initiated by Justice McMillan, disclosure defaults and void costs agreements governed by the Legal Profession Uniform Law, and legal costs that were not fair, reasonable and proportionate as required by that Law and the Civil Procedure Act 2010. Continue reading “Supreme Court flexes inherent jurisdiction of its own motion to require both parties’ lawyers’ costs to be taxed by the Costs Court on Scale”

What the Gobbo royal commission recommended about regulation of the legal profession

Here is Commissioner McMurdo’s Summary and Recommendations from the Final Report, published yesterday, of the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants.

Reproduced below is what it says about regulation of the legal profession.  There will be more complaints about barristers in the future.  Victorian barristers would be well advised to take out the top up insurance available to members of the Victorian Bar which includes a primary layer insurance against defence costs of disciplinary investigations including by the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner. Continue reading “What the Gobbo royal commission recommended about regulation of the legal profession”

LPUL’s transitional provisions

Nothing is quite as un-fun as argument about transitional provisions, but it is often unavoidable, since disciplinary tribunals are usually creatures of statute, and if the new or the old statute is mistakenly invoked, the Tribunal may purport to exercise jurisdiction which it does not have, with the result that its orders will be nullities which may be disregarded even absent an appeal: The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd v Victoria [2006] VSCA 146 at [33].  I suspect the people who dream up these things would say that counsel have an obligation to assist Tribunals to avoid over-reaching.

This post principally considers Griffin v The Council of the Law Society of NSW [2016] NSWCA 364, a judgment of Sackville AJA with whom Ward and Gleeson JJA agreed, and Council of the NSW Bar Association v Nagle [2018] NSWCATOD 104, a decision of the Hon F Marks, Principal Member.

If you have been the subject of disciplinary orders since 1 July 2015, you might want to dust them off and check whether the correct Applicant sought them under the correct legislation.  If not, you might be entitled to disregard them, and require their removal from the disciplinary register.

To save you from having to puzzle over the detail of what follows, here is my summary, which assumes that you understand that Schedule 1 to the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act (Vic), which Schedule I refer to as ‘the LPUL’, stands as a law of NSW by virtue of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act (NSW): Continue reading “LPUL’s transitional provisions”