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”

Costs Disclosure Obligations Under the Legal Profession Act 2004 (Vic)

The legendary foundation author of Quick on Costs, Roger Quick, has asked me to put this old workmanlike paper on my blog so that he can cite it and link to it in the second edition of that monumental text which he is kindly working on for all our benefits.

What follows does not deal with any developments in the law since 2010, or indeed anything I have learnt since 2010, when I delivered the paper, and so it is out of date, but it might still be of use in some jurisdictions which have not adopted the Legal Profession Uniform Law or by analogy in some cases which are governed by that law.  Sorry about the formatting, which is the product of copying and pasting a Word document into WordPress.

1. Summary

This paper does not deal with contingent, or no-win no-fee retainers.  In relation to all other matters, the take-home points are these: Continue reading “Costs Disclosure Obligations Under the Legal Profession Act 2004 (Vic)”

Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 3

I was asked to talk to my colleagues at the Victorian Bar recently in relation to costs recovery in pro bono cases. It is now more certain that costs may be recovered from the other side by victorious litigants who engage their lawyers on the basis of a greater variety of pro bono arrangements. That is as a result of both recent developments in the judge-made law and changes to the Supreme and County Courts’ rules. Over the last few days, I published parts one and two of the paper I distributed. What follows is the third and final part, which considers different kinds of client-favourable costs agreements (some quite esoteric) and analyses their indemnity principle implications.  It also provides some thoughts on how to draft costs agreements for work done otherwise than on a purely commercial basis, and how to ensure counsel get paid. Part one is here and part two here

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Species of client-favourable costs agreements

Options available to lawyers who wish to do work at less than their usual rates for non-commercial reasons include:

(a) not making any arrangements as to fees at all;

(b) charging your usual rates and leaving it to your discretion whether you send out a bill, or whether you forgive some or all bills given in the event that certain outcomes obtain;promising to do the work for free;

(c) agreeing to do the work at a reduced rate;

(d) doing the work on a no win = reduced fee basis;

(e) doing the work no win = no fee;

(f) doing the work no costs order = no fee;

(g) doing the work on no actual recovery of costs / compensation / costs or compensation = no fee basis. Continue reading “Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 3”

Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 2

I was asked to talk to my colleagues at the Victorian Bar recently in relation to costs recovery in pro bono cases. It is now more certain that costs may be recovered from the other side by victorious litigants who engage their lawyers in a greater variety of pro bono bases. That is as a result of both recent developments in the judge-made law and changes to the Supreme and County Courts’ rules. Over the next few days, I will publish, in digestible chunks, the paper I distributed. What follows is the second part. Part one of this article is here.

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Case law

The Court of Appeal declared that the indemnity principle is not offended by a costs agreement which is conditional on the client obtaining a costs order in Mainieri v Cirillo (2014) 47 VR 127. In that case, the successful party’s solicitors’ costs agreement said: Continue reading “Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 2”

Holy moly! VCAT finds costs agreement void for ambiguous disclosure then orders solicitors to content themselves with original estimate

VCAT has published reasons, the first I’ve come across, dealing with the allowance of costs under a costs agreement void for disclosure defaults: Sleath v RGL [2017] VCAT 1998.  Though they do not say so, it seems that the principal logic of the determination, under the same principles as the Costs Court is required to have regard to in taxations, was to keep the practitioners to their original written estimate notwithstanding subsequent oral updates. Scary stuff for lawyers if other decision makers reason similarly.  Whether the Costs Court will reason similarly is an interesting question.  It may be more likely that the Legal Services Commissioner will feel compelled to adopt similar reasoning in those costs disputes which it determines itself rather than referring off to VCAT.  Good news for clients and third party payers if so. Continue reading “Holy moly! VCAT finds costs agreement void for ambiguous disclosure then orders solicitors to content themselves with original estimate”

Suit for fees goes badly wrong but could have gone much worse

An ACT practitioner seems to me to have been skilfully represented, escaping with findings of unsatisfactory professional conduct, a reprimand and a fine.  The decision in Council of the Law Society of the ACT v LP [2017] ACAT 74  just shows how far cooperation and a persuasive articulation of remorse and insight can go.

The practitioner illegally sued his former client for fees in circumstances where he knew that the very person who had instructed him, a director of the client who had given a director’s guarantee and so was a third party payer, had sought taxation.  Generally speaking, solicitors cannot sue their clients for fees once the client has commenced taxation.

In support of applications for default judgment, and to wind up the corporate client, the practitioner represented to the court, including on oath, that there was no dispute about fees.  Given that the director, a builder, was the alter ego of his building company client, the proposition that the company did not dispute the fees attracted a charge of professional misconduct by swearing a false affidavit, a thoroughly serious allegation.  By a plea bargain, it was downgraded to a weird charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct (varied by me for readability):

The practitioner breached his general law ethical duty of professional conduct or the duty owed to the director of his former client pursuant to Rule 1.1 of the Legal Profession (Solicitors) Rules 2007 to continue to treat the former client fairly and in good faith, and not to treat it otherwise than in an honourable and reputable manner during the dispute over costs owed by the director or the former client.

Rule 1.1 was itself a weird old rule:

‘A practitioner should treat his or her client fairly and in good faith, giving due regard to the client’s position of dependence upon the practitioner, his or her special training and experience and the high degree of trust which a client is entitled to place in a practitioner.’

Perhaps the horribleness of the original false affidavit charge’s drafting contributed to the prosecution’s willingness in the end to back away from it and retreat into the weirdness set out above.  The original charge (again, varied by me for readability) was: Continue reading “Suit for fees goes badly wrong but could have gone much worse”

Judges’ referrals to the ATO, police, Legal Services Commissioners

Often enough, judges refer the conduct of lawyers appearing before them (or disclosed by the case they are adjudicating) to the Legal Services Commissioner for investigation.  A recent example is Re Manlio (no 2) [2016] VSC 130.  Judges also refer the conduct of non-lawyer parties to investigative agencies, e.g. where a tax fraud is suggested by evidence in the case.

Generally, this is not done pursuant to any statutory directive or authority.  An exception is s. 202 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law which requires the Costs Court to refer a matter to the Legal Services Commissioner if it considers that the legal costs charged, or any other issue raised in the assessment, may amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.  (Compare s. 3.4.46 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 which authorised rather than required the Taxing Master to make a referral.)

I have never been particularly clear about the nature of such a referral, or as to the procedures which ought to be followed. Gibson DCJ set out the principles recently, at least as they apply in NSW, in Mohareb v Palmer (No. 4) [2017] NSWDC 127: Continue reading “Judges’ referrals to the ATO, police, Legal Services Commissioners”

Applicant brings case beyond jurisdiction; respondent doesn’t take the point until the last minute; no one gets costs

Jasmin Solar Pty Ltd v Fitzpatrick Legal Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 220 is a little case, but it is instructive about a number of things: solicitor-client taxations can take an awfully long time; some businesses probably don’t understand that they are ‘commercial clients’ and so fail to negotiate rights in lieu of the rights to seek taxation which, under the LPUL they no longer have; some lawyers no doubt have standardised disclosures which advise their clients that they have rights which, if they are commercial clients, they do not have; the costs proportionality provisions extend to cases where costs have become disproportionate as a result of a simple oversight by one or other side’s lawyers.

Continue reading “Applicant brings case beyond jurisdiction; respondent doesn’t take the point until the last minute; no one gets costs”

Legal Services Commissioner’s new decision making powers

The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner has published a report on his new proactive regulation of the profession.  It tells how risk profiles of practices are being constructed with the assistance of academics to target trust audits and audits of firms more generally (a new thing for law practices which are not ILPs).  It also tells about the exercise of the power to make binding decisions, and alerted me to the fact that the Commissioner now publishes redacted versions of costs determinations at this page. The report says: Continue reading “Legal Services Commissioner’s new decision making powers”

Third party payer taxations where client bankrupt: WASCA

In Iron Mountain Mining Ltd v K & L Gates [2016] WASCA 166, the appellant, a listed company, had indemnified one of its directors against the legal costs of lawyers defending the director in criminal charges.  Companies can do this on the basis that the director must repay the costs if he pleads or is found guilty, since it is illegal to indemnify a costs liability incurred as an officer of the company if the costs are incurred in defending or resisting criminal proceedings in which the person is found guilty: ss. 199A-C Corporations Act 2001Note Printing Australia Ltd v Leckenby [2015] VSCA 105; (2015) 106 ACSR 147 [65]. The company paid more than $500,000 in respect of the fees prior to the guilty plea.

The director went bankrupt.  The company applied for taxation of the director’s solicitors’ fees.  By that time, the director had pleaded guilty to some of the charges.  The company was a non-associated third party payer; it promised to pay the lawyers’ fees, but its promise was made to the director and not to the lawyers. The Court found that the right given to third party payers to seek taxation did not adjust the interests of the client and the lawyers; it only adjusted the interests between the third party payer and the client: Continue reading “Third party payer taxations where client bankrupt: WASCA”

Yet more on the obligation on Legal Services Commissioners to plead their case properly and stick to it

Legal Services Commissioner v AL [2016] QCAT 237 is a decision of a disciplinary tribunal presided over by Justice David Thomas, President of QCAT and a Supreme Court judge. It is therefore of high persuasive value, and treats Queensland provisions which are the same as the equivalent Victorian provisions. And it provides what I suggest with respect are the correct answers to the following questions:

  • How negligent do you have to be before you can be found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct as defined in provisions which say that the concept includes ‘conduct that falls short of the standard of competence and diligence that a member of the public is entitled to expect of a reasonably competent’ lawyer holding a practising certificate? (Answer at [44] and [27]: substantial and very obvious fallings short of the standard, established by direct inferences from exact proofs.)
  • What must be pleaded specifically in a disciplinary charge? (Answer at [82] – [92]: all states of mind, not only dishonest intents, and all facts to be relied on (‘the charges to be levelled must be fully and adequately set out in the Discipline Application. As a matter of procedural fairness, the Practitioner should not be left in any doubt as to the extent of the allegations that is to be met.’)
  • To what extent is a disciplinary tribunal constrained in its decision making by the allegations specifically made in the charge? (Answer at [96] – [108]: absolutely: if no state of mind is alleged, the prosecution should not be allowed to call evidence as to state of mind; ‘it would be wrong to admit evidence the principal purpose of which is to establish conduct that lies beyond the ambit of the charge’.)
  • Does the mere fact that charges are not allowed on taxation mean that there has been overcharging such as to warrant discipline? (Answer at [76] – [77]: no)

The Tribunal dismissed charges against a solicitor who lodged a caveat pursuant to an equitable mortgage without checking that it satisfied the Statute of Frauds’ writing requirements and against a partner of her firm who took over her files when she was on holidays and billed the client for the work in attempting unsuccessfully to register the caveat.

I move from the specific facts of this QCAT case to general comment (what follows is certainly not veiled reference to the conduct of the Commissioner’s counsel in QCAT). There is a very real reason to insist on the particularization of states of mind in disciplinary tribunals, including particulars of actual and constructive knowledge. These details do not always get left out just because it is thought that disciplinary tribunals are not courts of pleading and such minutiae is not appropriate. Nor do they just get left out because they are thought to be inherent in the allegation, or because of incompetence, or mere mistake. Rather, they get left out because bureaucrats have investigated incompetently and when competent counsel come to plead disciplinary applications based on the investigation, they do not have a sufficient factual foundation to make these allegations, or perhaps are simply too timid.

But sometimes counsel with civil practices, untutored in the art of prosecutorial restraint, and safe in their private belief that the practitioner is in fact much more evil than incompetent investigation established, might fall prey to temptation. Mealy-mouthed, ambiguous allegations might be made which require the practitioner to get into the witness box. Then, all manner of unpleaded allegations as to states of mind and as to completely un-pleaded conduct, justified in relevance as tendency evidence or circumstantial evidence of the pleaded facts, might be cross-examined out of the practitioner and an unpleaded case presented to the disciplinary tribunal in closing. In a tribunal not bound by the rules of evidence, such questioning may be waved through with lip service to the proposition that objections will be dealt with by according appropriate weight to the evidence in the final analysis. Queensland leads the charge against such conduct, and I can’t help thinking it’s because Supreme Court judges seem to get involved in disciplinary decisions more often up there. All power to them. So impressed am I with this latest judgment, I have decided to go on a study tour of the Sunshine Coast in the September school holidays.

Continue reading “Yet more on the obligation on Legal Services Commissioners to plead their case properly and stick to it”

Advocates’ immunity: at once more powerful and narrower than most yet understand

Advocates’ immunity was, until recently, more powerful than many lawyers were aware. Since the 1 July 2015 introduction of the Legal Profession Uniform Law and the High Court’s May 2016 decision in Attwells v Jackson Lallic Lawyers Pty Limited,[1] however, it may be narrower than many realise. And perhaps not everyone is aware that the immunity these days is very likely peculiar to Australia; it is certainly not a feature of English, American, Canadian, Continental, Indian, South African or New Zealand law.[2] Continue reading “Advocates’ immunity: at once more powerful and narrower than most yet understand”

Applications to extend time to tax lawyers’ bills: keep ’em tight

Many disputes about costs are still governed by the Legal Profession Act 2004.  It specified as the time in which to seek taxation a period of 12 months.  Where a bill is given, the 12 month period starts from the date of service of the bill.  But since Collection Point Pty Ltd v Cornwalls Lawyers Pty Ltd [2012] VSC 492, it is clear that clients have until 12 months after the service of the final bill in any particular matter to seek taxation of any previous bill.  Of course what is the final bill in the same matter is a difficult question.  What is clear is that one costs agreement may govern several matters.

Applications to extend time must be made to a Justice of the Supreme Court (as opposed to any decision maker in the Costs Court or any Associate Justice) under s. 3.4.38(6).  The law is well-summarised by John Dixon J in Rohowskyj v S Tomyn & Co [2015] VSC 511, and his Honour’s guidance about the nature of an extension of time application is useful and prone to be overlooked: Continue reading “Applications to extend time to tax lawyers’ bills: keep ’em tight”

Man fails to set aside compromise of taxation of costs despite drunkenness from allergy tablets

A man took 5 times his usual dose of phenergan before a mediation in a Costs Court matter in which he sought to tax his former solicitor’s fees.  Represented by a solicitor, he settled the taxation.  It is an interesting footnote that the man’s solicitor was from the rather wonderfully named Coolabah Law Chambers, and is described on the firm’s website as follows:

‘Although Jeff has sincere respect for the Bench, he is not afraid to argue and fight for his clients.  Jeff believes that each of his clients must be properly represented and must receive a ‘fair go’.  To appreciate Jeff’s keenness one has only to learn of one occasion when, during his closing address to the jury, Jeff performed an impersonation of Austin Powers in “The Spy Who Shagged Me”.  Jeff’s client was successful in that case!’

The man applied, unrepresented, to the Costs Court to have it set aside on the basis of the solicitor respondent to the taxation had taken unconscientious advantage of his phenergan intoxication in procuring the settlement.  The Costs Court referred the question to the Practice Court.

The Practice Court considered whether the determination of a mixed question of fact and law was one which could be the subject of a referral by the Costs Judge for ‘directions’ to a judge of the trial division under r. 63.51.  Bell J said it could.

But his Honour ruled that the Costs Court did not have jurisdiction to hear that question and so made the man commence a fresh Supreme Court proceeding for a declaration: [2015] VSC 417.  Bell J found that the Costs Court is a ‘statutory court of limited jurisdiction’.  That is interesting because presumably when the same work was done by the Taxing Master, the Supreme Court itself would have been exercising its unlimited jurisdiction so the creation of this Costs Court has complicated things.

Bell J found that the Costs Court did not have jurisdiction and so could not refer the proceeding to the Practice Court. The question which, on one characterisation, was whether the Costs Court should enforce a settlement of a Costs Court proceeding at a mediation ordered by the Costs Court was not one arising in the course of ‘assessment, settling, taxation or review of costs’ and so not within the Costs Court’s jurisdiction as described in s. 17D of the Supreme Court Act 1986.  Not even within the grant of such additional power to the Costs Court as is necessary to do its job in sub-s. (2).  Emerton J’s decision in Gadens Lawyers v Beba Enterprises [2012] VSC 519 about the Costs Court’s jurisdiction was not cited to Bell J, who reasoned:

‘It is true that, in the circumstances of the present case, the issues raised by the application to set aside the agreement are connected with the ‘assessment, settling, taxation or review of costs’ because, in great part, the agreement settled the issues relating to those matters in the Costs Court.  But a connection with those matters is not enough.  The issues must actually relate to those matters.  The issue is not that the set-aside application raises substantive issues of mixed fact and law, which it does, but that those issues do not relate to the ‘assessment, settling, taxation or review of costs’.’

So the man duly commenced a new proceeding which a judge of the Court referred back, perhaps a little paradoxically, to an Associate Justice who was not the Costs Judge for determination.  If you’re expecting a happy ending for the doughty self-represented client-plaintiff after this procedural buffeting, I can’t help you.  Derham AsJ found that the solicitors had been ignorant of any excema-related intoxication under which the plaintiff laboured and dismissed his application to set aside the settlement: EO v Bolton & Swan Pty Ltd [2016] VSC 91.

When can lawyers contract out of taxation (part 3)

This is part 3 of a post about the circumstances in which lawyers can avoid having their fees taxed.  Parts 1 and 2 are here and here.  In GLS v Goodman Group Pty Ltd [2015] VSC 627, Macaulay J held that an accord and satisfaction which was found to have been made in relation to fees previously rendered for work already done was not a ‘costs agreement’ in the sense of that expression in the now-repealed but still operative Legal Profession Act 2004, so that the prohibitions on contracting out of taxation in costs agreements, and the writing requirements for costs agreements were not applicable.  His Honour distinguished Amirbeaggi and Jaha, discussed in the two previous posts, explaining that he was following Beba.

Justice Macaulay ruled: Continue reading “When can lawyers contract out of taxation (part 3)”

When can lawyers contract out of taxation? (part 2)

This is part 2 of a post about in what circumstances lawyers can avoid having their fees scrutinised by the Supreme Court by the process traditionally known as ‘taxation’, but more recently also described in statutes as ‘costs review’ and ‘costs assessment’.  Part 1 is here. First, a disclosure: I argued Beba at first instance, for the lawyers, and advised in the appeals.

In Beba Enterprises Limited v Gadens Lawyers [2013] VSCA 136, a borrower promised the lender to pay the lender’s legal costs if they defaulted.  Of course, they did default, and the lender demanded a sum which included an allowance for the lender’s legal fees occasioned by the default. The borrower and lender compromised their dispute, including in relation to the legal fees payable.  Nevertheless, the borrower sought taxation of the lender’s legal fees by issuing a summons for taxation addressed to Gadens Lawyers, the lender’s solicitors. Continue reading “When can lawyers contract out of taxation? (part 2)”

When can lawyers contract out of taxation? (part 1)

Often enough, lawyers would love to avoid having their costs taxed.  Under the repealed but still operative Legal Profession Act 2004, lawyers could contract out in advance of the obligation to have their fees reviewed by taxation with ‘sophisticated clients’, but I do not recall ever having seen anyone attempt to do so.

When lawyers have not complied perfectly, vis-a-vis unsophisticated clients, with the costs disclosure regime under the repealed but still relevant Legal Profession Act 2004, they could not recover their fees unless there had been a taxation: s. 3.4.17.

It was clear that unsophisticated clients could not validly agree to waive in advance of the fees being incurred their right to tax their lawyers’ charges. But what about if the solicitors entered into a compromise of a dispute about their already rendered fees with their client?

How did the law of accord and satisfaction apply? (Accord and satisfaction is the litigation estoppel equivalent to res judicata when a dispute is compromised or ‘settled’ rather than adjudicated upon.)

Can lawyers get certainty and avoid further disputation (including taxation) in return for a discount on their fees?  Can they get around the s. 3.4.17 prohibition on recovering fees in cases of disclosure defaults unless they have been taxed?  If a taxation is commenced and then compromised, I would think there was no doubt that the fees have been ‘taxed’ for the purposes of this rule, especially if the compromise were embodied in orders finalising the taxation.  But what if the compromise occurs without any summons for taxation having been issued? Need the compromise comply with the formal requirements for costs agreements on the basis that they are agreements about the payment of legal costs which have been which have been charged for the provision of legal services?  Does the accord have to state expressly that the client waives the right to taxation?

It seemed until recently, that lawyers could not preclude taxation by compromising a dispute with a client or associated third party payer about fees, because such agreements would amount to a ‘costs agreement’ under the Legal Profession Act 2004.  Costs agreements were defined, after all, to mean ‘an agreement about the payment of legal costs’: s. 3.4.2, where ‘legal costs’ were defined by s. 1.2.1 to mean, amongst other things, ‘amounts that a person has been … charged by … a law practice for the provision of legal services…’).  And the Act prohibited unsophisticated clients from contracting out of their right to taxation.  Attempts to do so were void: ss. 3.4.26(5), 3.4.31.

The cases in this blog post (Amirbeaggi (NSWSC, 2008) and Jaha (SCV, 2012) explain why unsophisticated clients were apparently equally unable validly to waive their right to taxation after the fees had been incurred as they were unable to do so in advance, by virtue of the breadth of the definition of ‘costs agreement’.

Subsequent blog posts will consider what the Court of Appeal has had to say in a case indirectly on point, and explain the true state of the law in Victoria, as declared by the Supreme Court. It seems now that Victorian lawyers in dispute with their clients can buy their way out of taxation by giving clients a bit of a discount, and that this can occur without any writing or other formalities associated with ‘costs agreements’, and without any express reference to the future unavailability of taxation.  The client need not even be aware that they are giving up their right to taxation.  And that is so because agreements about how much a lawyer will accept in full and final satisfaction of their claim for fees already rendered for work already done are not ‘costs agreements’ governed by the Act after all. Continue reading “When can lawyers contract out of taxation? (part 1)”