Skip to Content »

Aussie lawyers to pay for poor lawyering

  • June 16th, 2009

A court in Queensland a few years ago horrified the barristerial world by ordering lawyers in a case to pay costs personally, when the judge considered them personally responsible for unconscionably dragging it out.

Now the Australian Federal Attorney General has announced moves to formalise such risks.

"Parties and their lawyers will be obliged to resolve disputes as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible.  If lawyers breach these obligations, a judge will be able to make personal costs orders against them, including that they have no right of reimbursement from their clients."

If the courts were run in a business like way there would be other changes to improve the incentives on lawyers and to help clients.

For example, clients need better information about who is worth paying to go to court.

Most barrister clients are not repeat players. It is hard for them to know whether their lawyers have done a good job. The outcome can depend on whether the law was against the client,  the facts, the performance of the other side and the performance of the judge.

Judges are in the best position to rate lawyers. They have traditionally been the most influential in assessing candidates for ‘silk’ (QC or Senior Counsel appointment). The judge can not know whether the lawyer has been handicapped by silly client instructions, or not enough time to do a proper job, etc. But over time those factors average out, and judges collectively can develop informed views of performance. It does not really matter if they reflect prejudice, if they do not see the intrinsic intelligence or diligence applied. The key thing for a client is how well the lawyer appeals to the judge, so their ratings are valuable whatever the source of bias.

Judges should rate the performance of lawyers after each trial, on several factors, including time wasted, judgment and persuasiveness. The average ratings each year should be publicly accessible on a website.

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>