On the desirability of requesting a written progress report

I deal with clients who have been economically raped by rapacious lawyers.  How these crimes  manage to be perpetrated is a source of constant amazement to me.  Of course these evildoers never provide written advice.  They would be incapable of giving it, and would never tie themselves down like that. Most Australian clients have a statutory right to written progress reports: Section 3.4.18 Legal Profession Act, 2004 (Vic), and see the other jurisdictions’ provisions below.  That says:

‘A law practice must give a client, on reasonable request — (a) a written report of the progress of the matter in which the law practice is retained’.

Many clients would be well advised to exercise this right.  A request might say:

‘Dear Madam,

I would be grateful if you would provide me with a written report of the progress of this matter, under s. 3.4.18 of the Legal Profession Act, 2004.  In particular, I would be interested to know [specify].

Yours etc.’

The consequences for the lawyer of not complying are probably spelt out in s. 3.4.17, and are very significant: the client need not pay the lawyer’s fees, and the lawyer may not sue for the fees until they have been the subject of a solicitor-client taxation (now called a ‘review’) at the lawyer’s expense (s. 3.4.45), and on the taxation the fees are to be reduced proportionately to the seriousness of the failure to comply.  Furthermore, non-compliance may amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct or, if deliberate, professional misconduct, and so result in disciplinary sanctions for the lawyer, and provide a good basis for disciplinary complaint on the part of the client.  I say ‘probably’ because it is not entirely clear to me that the information required to be provided by s. 3.4.18, which comes after s. 3.4.17, is within the class of ‘disclosures’ failure to give which carries the consequences just outlined.

The other jurisdictions’ provisions are:

Section 317 Legal Profession Act, 2007 (Qld);

Section 312 Legal Profession Act, 2006 (NT);

Section 301 Legal Profession Act, 2007 (Tas);

Section 269 Legal Profession Act, 2008 (WA);

Section 218 Legal Profession Act, 2004 (NSW);

Section 278 Legal Profession Act, 2006 (ACT).

I have never heard of anyone exercising the right.  There are no cases which flesh out what is necessary to comprise a ‘report of the progress of the matter’.

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One Reply to “On the desirability of requesting a written progress report”

  1. One wonders why the onus is placed upon the client to make a "reasonable" request as to the progress of their matter. It would strike me as rather paternalistic. By way of contrast, in England & Wales the commentary to Rule 2 of the Solicitors Code (Client Care) states:

    Para 14 "The "level of service" to be provided should be agreed at the outset. For example, the client may want regular written reports. Alternatively, the client may want to provide initial instructions then to hear no more until an agreed point has been reached. This will affect the projected costs of the matter." and

    Para 18 "You must give the required information to the client as soon as possible after you have agreed to act. You must then keep the client up to date with the progress of the matter and any changes affecting the original agreement."

    From a client satisfaction point of view it would be considered good practice to at least agree up front with the client how and when the client will be updated. Probably best not to assume that the client doesn't want to hear from you until the end of the matter.

    Patrick Oliver

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