Weiss v Barker Gosling

Weiss v Barker Gosling (1993) 16 Fam LR 728; [1993] FamCA 58 is a decision of Fogarty J about an application to set aside a costs agreement and have the client’s debt to his solicitor for representing him in the Family Court quantified by a taxation on the Family Court Scale.  It really comes in two parts, the second being reported as Weiss v Barker Gosling (No. 2) (1993) 17 Fam LR 626. The client argued there had been a failure to follow the costs disclosure requirements in the Family Law Rules, that the costs agreement was ‘unreasonable’, that it was void for uncertainty, and that undue influence by the solicitor caused the agreement.  The application was made under a provision in the Family Law Rules (r. 8A) which permitted a client to apply for a determination of any question as to the validity of a costs agreement.  Upon such an application, the Family Court might ‘confirm, vary or set aside the costs agreement and make any other order the judge considers necessary or appropriate.’ Continue reading “Weiss v Barker Gosling”

Procedure in applications to set aside costs agreements

It costs about $290 to file an application to set aside a costs agreement under s. 3.4.32 of the Legal Profession Act, 2004 in VCAT.  It is not a step lightly to be taken.  Moreso than much of what goes on in VCAT, such applications are treated like litigation in a court.  Costs will be awarded against the unsuccessful party much more often than in other kinds of proceedings in VCAT; indeed, it is more or less true that costs follow the event, that is, the loser generally has to pay the winner’s costs calculated according to an appropriate County Court scale.  See the page on VCAT’s website about these kinds of applications, which includes the correct form for initiating these kinds of proceedings.

Following filing, VCAT generally sets down a directions hearing of its own motion. There is a standard form of orders which is often made.  They are reproduced below.  To avoid a directions hearing, applicants would be well-advised to include the details (‘particulars’ in legal lingo) the usual orders require in the application itself.  The applicant should then ask the respondent whether it will consent to doing what the usual orders generally require within, say, 2 weeks.  Alternatively, if that was not done at the outset, the parties might consider submitting the orders they would each be happy with (‘a minute of consent orders’ in legal lingo) in the terms of the usual orders to VCAT in advance, saving the need for a trip to VCAT if the decision maker who would otherwise preside at the directions hearing is content to make the orders on the papers.  Of course, a directions hearing may be necessary anyway.  Directions made at directions hearings are not necessarily limited to those found in the usual orders.  Nor are the usual orders always made.

The usual orders are:

Continue reading “Procedure in applications to set aside costs agreements”

Giant solicitors’ lien case

The Supreme Court of NSW recently delivered a giant decision about a solicitor’s costs agreement and a fight over the right to possession of the solicitor’s file.  Acting Justice Debelle’s reasons in PM Sulcs & Associates Pty Ltd v Oliveri [2009] NSWSC 456 exceed 33,333 words.  Ultimately, his Honour found there was no costs agreements, with the result that legal costs, though still payable, were payable only on a quantum meruit basis at common law.  Though what those fees amounted to on a quantum meruit basis was unascertained, no bills having been given on that basis, it was still enough to support the solicitor’s assertion of a lien for unpaid costs as justification for refusing to deliver up the file.  I have not read the decision, but though an argument that there was a retrospecive costs agreement failed, it seems to have failed on the facts rather than on any legal difficulty with the concept of a retrospective costs agreement.