Solicitor secretly records client then sues them for ‘consultancy fees’ under 6 year old oral agreement over dinner

A well-known Melbourne solicitor sued his clients for $165,000 in fees for helping them buy a car dealership.  Six years after a dinner with the clients in St Kilda, he sued his dinner companions, claiming to have entered at the dinner into an oral agreement that he would receive 1% of the purchase price of a Cairns car dealership upon settlement.  Oral costs agreements under the Legal Practice Act, 1996 were void, but the solicitor claimed that he was not doing legal work, but was engaged as a business consultant.  He had not rendered a bill for the fees before suing.  These problems with his claims were not decided, because Justice Hollingworth found the alleged agreement not to have been made out.  There was no document which recorded the alleged oral agreement, and none which corroborated it in any meaningful way. More than one hundred times he had acted for the clients on an orthodox basis, but this, he claimed, was the third percentage based fees agreement. Justice Hollingworth found that the two previous such agreements claimed by the solicitor had not in fact been made, so the question was whether this fee agreement was the odd one out, and described aspects of his evidence as ‘unsatisfactory’.  After it was apparent he and the clients disagreed about whether there was a 1% fee agreement, the solicitor secretly recorded a conversation in which he ‘repeatedly tried to get [one of the clients] to admit the existence of the 1% agreement’.  Though on her Honour’s construction of the recording, he failed in that endeavour, he nonetheless tendered the recorded evidence at trial.  The solicitor lost; he had grabbed a tiger by the tail.  The decision is EV v King [2010] VSC 80.

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