Court of Appeal denies lawyer's appeal over unsatisfactory conduct

The case involves a lawyer's advice to a client on lodging caveats

Court of Appeal denies lawyer's appeal over unsatisfactory conduct

The Court of Appeal denied lawyer Jeremy McGuire’s partial appeal challenging four adverse determinations by Standards Committees and the Legal Complaints Review Officer under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

McGuire represented a complainant in lodging a caveat against a property owned by the complainant's late father and stepmother. The caveat aimed to challenge the will favouring the stepmother. McGuire had the complainant sign an indemnity stating McGuire's limited liability if the caveat was deemed inappropriate. However, the caveat was initially rejected and later challenged legally, leading to its withdrawal and costs imposed on the complainant.

The complainant subsequently accused McGuire of providing inadequate advice, leading to unsatisfactory conduct determinations by Central Standards Committee and LCRO. The Committee censured McGuire, fined him $5,000, and ordered him to pay $2,000 in costs to the New Zealand Law Society and $1,919.50 in compensation to the complainant.

Additionally, in 2019, McGuire overcharged a different complainant for conveyancing services. Despite promising a refund, McGuire failed to comply, resulting in another complaint. General Standards Committee found McGuire’s conduct unsatisfactory and ordered him to refund $150 and reduce his fee.

McGuire sought judicial review of the determinations, claiming errors in law and fact. He asserted that he advised against lodging the caveat but was compelled by the complainant. He also argued that the determination of the consequential order was invalid due to an ongoing review by LCRO.

The High Court, however, found that McGuire’s indemnity demonstrated his awareness of the caveat’s dubious validity. It upheld the Standards Committees’ findings, stating McGuire failed to meet his professional obligations and provide adequate written advice to the complainant.

The Court of Appeal rejected McGuire’s arguments, affirming the High Court’s conclusions. The court noted the lack of evidence supporting McGuire's claim that the determination of the consequential order should be included in his review request to LCRO. The court also found no merit in McGuire’s claim that he complied with the guidance in Gordon v Treadwell Stacey Smith, which outlines the obligations of lawyers in advising clients on lodging caveats.

The court emphasized that the LCRO correctly found McGuire’s conduct unsatisfactory and unreasonable. McGuire's failure to refund the complainant was not a minor billing error but a breach of professional conduct, justifying the disciplinary actions taken.

Ultimately, the appeal court upheld the High Court’s decision, dismissing McGuire’s appeal. It confirmed the validity of the determinations by Standards Committees and LCRO, reinforcing the importance of adhering to professional standards and providing clear, competent legal advice.

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