Unrepresented barristers’ entitlement to costs in cases involving them personally

In Winn v GHB [2007] VSC 360, a barrister was personally a party in some litigation. She was admitted in Victoria but at the relevant time was practising in Brisbane under a Queensland practising certificate. She taxed her solicitors’ fees, and acted for herself. She appealed successfully from the order of the Taxing Master. She successfully sought an order for costs, but the only costs she was entitled to were costs of travelling to and from Victoria from Queensland for the hearings because the exception to the rule that unrepresented litigants are not entitled to costs except for out of pocket expenses applies only to solicitors and does not extend to barristers. Continue reading “Unrepresented barristers’ entitlement to costs in cases involving them personally”

Arbitrators slice $40 million off plaintiff lawyers’ breast implant proceedings fees

22 July Update: what may be the first ever legal blog, and without doubt one of the best, Overlawyered has  a link to the arbitrator’s ruling, and links to some old posts dealing with the interlocutory stages of the case. And here’s Law.com’s article.

Houston plaintiff lawyer John O’Quinn has been ordered to repay clients $40 million in legal fees after he was found to have charged his clients for bar association fees, overheads, and flowers as part of a ‘general expenses fee’ of 1.5% of the settlement. Ironically, his former clients ganged up on him. In a class action. They wanted all the fees he charged them back — estimated at $0.66 billion:

‘A Texas Supreme Court case from 1999 opened O’Quinn up to the possibility of having to pay back all the collected legal fees. That case, Burrow v. Arce, held that if a lawyer breaks his fiduciary duty to a client by putting his own interest above the client’s, he can lose part or all of his fee — even if the lawyer did a good job.’

I’ve noted that case before. Scary. Not that he got away without penalty, exactly:

‘The order says that O’Quinn, through three legal entities under which he has practiced law, must pay back [AU$12] million he improperly charged clients and a [AU$28.5] million penalty because he broke his contract with them.

Man sues lawyer for declaration in reverse suit for fees

A client sued his former solicitor in VCAT for a declaration that no fees were owing because of costs disclosure defaults by the solicitor. Member Butcher stayed the proceeding pending taxation by the Supreme Court’s Taxing Master on the basis that the sending of a cost disclosure statement at the same time as the work done — in this case a letter of advice — was a default under the Act with the result that the fees were not payable until taxed by the Supreme Court at the solicitor’s expense. He also found that in those circumstances, no costs agreement had come into existence; the offer was made after the performance of the solicitor’s obligations under it. Continue reading “Man sues lawyer for declaration in reverse suit for fees”

How not to bill; how not to deal with a fee dispute; the story of a Yank lawyer

Courtesy of Justinian, I bring you the story of the overcharging New Jersey lawyer who charged like this:

“With regard to the fee, he purportedly spent entire days, sometimes eight or nine hours per day, for several days in a row, apparently in ‘lockdown’ — researching, reviewing and negotiating issues that had little or no bearing on the substance of the transaction. Further, respondent presented nothing to substantiate the time charges underlying the bill. Nothing in the record refuted Ferwerda’s compelling testimony that respondent’s services should have been limited to review of the SBA loan documents, an unalterable lease agreement, and the franchise agreement, itself a non-negotiable contract.”

Then, when the client hesitated before paying the $50,000 bill, he:

“threatened her with criminal prosecution for “theft of services” and he didn’t stop there: He also warned that she might lose her business, her home and her professional license.”

She went to another lawyer, who instituted a fee arbitration. The first lawyer settled by waiving his fee, all the time contending he was perfectly entitled to it. When he was charged with gross overcharging and intimidatory conduct, he failed to appear at the hearing, earning himself a break for 6 months.

Litigant’s right to recover fees of interstate lawyer under costs order

Update: now reported at (2007) 237 ALR 802 

This little problem gives rise to ridiculous complexities. In Cannon Street Pty Ltd v Karedis [2006] QCA 541, the Queensland Court of Appeal upheld Justice White’s decision to allow, as party party costs, work done for the successful party by Clayton Utz Sydney in relation to trial of the matter in the Supreme Court of Queensland, despite a parochial provision in the local Supreme Court Act, 1995 (s. 209) which said “A person who is not a barrister or solicitor of the Supreme Court shall not be entitled to claim or recover or receive directly or indirectly a sum of money or other remuneration for appearing or acting on behalf of another person in the Supreme Court”. That the Court had been exercising federal jurisdiction seems to have been significant. I have only glanced at the decision. Another recent case to consider similar issues is Santos Ltd v Delhi Petroleum Pty Ltd [2005] SASC 242.

Can the taxing master decide professional negligence claims?

Update, 10 March 2009:  See also these posts about Macteldir Pty Limited v Roskov [2007] FCAFC 49, and King v Stiefel [2023] EWHC 453, case note here.

Update, 3 April 2009: It’s still going: Winn v GHB [2009] VSC 93.

Original post: In Winn v GHB [2006] VSC 476, Winn won, another victory for a pro se litigant against their former solicitors, though it seems this former teacher has recently joined the Queensland bar, which suggests she was at something of an advantage over your average punter in unravelling the arcane intricacies of the Supreme Court’s taxing court. Justice Kaye considered whether the Taxing Master was empowered to tax items off a bill of costs in taxable form on a solicitor-client taxation on the basis of professional negligence, and if so, when the process of doing so ought to stop in favour of a properly constituted professional negligence proceeding. His answers? Yes, and it’s a question of degree. Continue reading “Can the taxing master decide professional negligence claims?”

VCAT has no jurisdiction over Family Court fee disputes

VCAT does not have jurisdiction over costs disputes in relation to Family Court cases or to state Magistrates’ Courts exercising the Family Court’s jurisdiction (except to the extent it is exercising jurisdiction under ss 35 or 35B of the Bankruptcy Act, 1966), but does have jurisdiction in relation to costs disputes in relation to Federal Magistrates’ Court proceedings under the Family Law Act, 1975. Continue reading “VCAT has no jurisdiction over Family Court fee disputes”

Winner gets indemnity costs but recovers less when loser proves winner’s costs agreement with his solicitors void

Casey v Quabba [2006] QCA 187

As reported in Lawyers Weekly, the Queensland Court of Appeal said the trial judge should have allowed the unsuccessful party in litigation to call for and challenge the validity of the successful party’s costs agreement with his solicitor in a party-party taxation of costs on an indemnity basis. Further, the judges found the successful party’s costs agreement was void for failure to specify the minimum requirements fora costs agreement, and ordered the costs to be taxed on the basis that there was no valid costs agreement (presumably by reference to the court scale). Don’t get too excited though; the case turned in part on the facts that (i) the taxing officer was directed by the rules of court to have regard, in indemnity costs taxations, to the costs agreement of the successful party, and (ii) the purpose of the Queensland provision was not only to benefit the client party to the agreement, but also to protect third parties affected, such as those against whom costs orders are made.

But I do wonder whether any thought was given by the successful party and the solicitors hastily putting together a valid agreement with retrospective operation. I can see no reason why it should not work.

Continue reading “Winner gets indemnity costs but recovers less when loser proves winner’s costs agreement with his solicitors void”