By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
A NSW Supreme Court judge has slammed Sydney law firm Brydens Lawyers for failing to provide a former client with an itemised bill of costs.
Mr Tan Than Le was seriously injured in 2005 after being struck by a forklift at his workplace. Mr Le, who has limited English skills, retained the firm in 2006 to commence legal proceedings in the NSW District Court against his employer.
Proceedings were commenced in 2007, and heard in late 2012 and early 2013. A judgment was entered in Mr Le’s favour in May 2013, and on 12 July 2013, Brydens received a cheque in the sum of $650,000.
A conditional cost agreement was entered on 4 June 2013.
On 19 July 2013, Brydens issued Mr Le with a memorandum of costs and disbursements in the sum of $304,688.72. The bill was not itemised, meaning there was no list of the work undertaken and the amount charged for each item of work.
Mr Le wrote to the firm with the assistance of an interpreter on 1 March 2014, raising various concerns about the way his case was conducted and the payout he received, which he expected to be a lot more.
On 4 September 2014, lawyers for Mr Le wrote to Brydens requesting an itemised bill of costs.
Brydens refused to provide an itemised bill. The firm also claimed to have lost Mr Le’s files.
The matter proceeded to the Supreme Court, where on 16 March 2017 Justice Schmidt ordered Brydens to provide Mr Le with an itemised bill. Relevant to that decision was the fact Mr Le was never advised he had to apply for such a bill within 12 months of the disposal of his case.
The matter came back before the Supreme Court on 21 April 2017, where Justice Schmidt sternly criticised the conduct of the law firm, stating:
“The approach which Brydens pursued in these proceedings in the circumstances, I consider, was entirely cynical… Bryden’s knowledge of the fact of Mr Le’s limited command of English and the circumstances to which he deposed, in support of his application for leave to have its costs assessed out of time, ought to have led it to consent to that application. Its approach was inconsistent with the obligations imposed on parties by [the law].”
The judge found that the firm’s failure to provide an itemised bill contravened the Legal Profession Act 2004, criticising its “pursuit of hopeless technical points”.
The judge ordered Brydens to pay Mr Le’s legal costs on an “indemnity basis”, which means the whole bill for the Supreme Court proceedings and not just the essential work, which is often referred to as “party / party” costs.