Dodgy solicitors and the ‘legal watchdog’ rort

Are all lawyers rip-off merchants? In other words, is there no real accountability in the legal profession against the kind of professional negligence (such as overcharging, not making a real effort to represent a client or case, giving assurances that are reneged on or not honored, etc.) that make lawyers the butt of endless jokes* about this as well as persistent anecdotal stories recounted by so many people?  [* e.g. Q: What’s the difference between a dead skunk on the road and a dead lawyer on the road? A: There are skid marks in front of the skunk.]

Over the years our own experience and that of family and friends suggests that a disproportionate number of solicitors seem to be lazy, incompetent and/or dishonest (i.e. basically or regularly non-accountable and professionally negligent in their dealings with clients).  I thought I would check out if or to what extent there was any accountability within the profession by making a formal complaint against one (where I was sure I had reasonable evidence of ‘professional negligence’) to the advertised independent Watchdog the Qld Legal Services Commission. I spent literally months putting together a comprehensive (and I thought damning) submission to them only to have the presented case selectively misrepresented and related evidence repeatedly ignored –  and (the inescapable conclusion seemed to be) generally ‘white-washed’ by the appointed investigator. Mid-way through the exercise an experienced solicitor warned me this would almost certainly be the result, suggesting that like so many government or industry Watchdogs these days (see many our earlier posts on this topic) the Commission could be really operating more to obstruct, deny and cover-up rather than genuinely investigate reasonable and genuine cases of complaint against solicitors in the state.

Note: We acknowledge that not all solicitors are bad people or negligent professionals as we have indeed come across at least one ‘good one’ in the last thirty years or so. But there seems to be enough truth in our own experience as well as in the anecdotes and jokes about the profession that it continues to maintain a rampant culture of non-accountability in terms of performance and charging for services rendered (or not).]. We should acknowledge that it is perhaps not surprising that this solicitor is based on the Gold Coast – which some see as scam capital of Australia and is the enduring locale for the related stereotype of the ‘dodgy GC solicitor’. The full case study will be documented in an up-coming report to be made available on our related website.

Open letter to LSC #2 26/3/2018

Dear LSC and Dave Deception (Acting LSC Commissioner),

After returning from travels I have received your 21/3/2018 letter saying that you had closed the file on my complaints about as well as to the LSC about the regularly demonstrated professional negligence of Chestnut Balls. However, I also found a letter from LSC Principal Legal Officer Derek Dogsbody asking me to provide a list of specific items of response and further evidence by the 28th March. It seems that you have decided not to bother with even any semblance of due process (let alone natural justice) – to not allow me the chance to respond and provide additional details. I can’t say I am very surprised as the original investigator freely admitted in writing that she had not bothered to read any of the hundreds of pages of supporting evidence provided for my very detailed complaint and comprehensive listing of a various specific and demonstrated items of specific complaint (as well as overall). The fact that Derek Dogsbody (and assistant Empty Beerglass) had already apparently ignored this central, irrefutable and damning evidence of the apparent cover-up effort of Ms. Big Mac also suggests that (a) he was taking a similar line to Ms. Big Mac (perhaps together you make up the ‘three wise monkeys’?), and (b) that may be an endemic or systemic failure of competence and/or accountability at the Qld LSC – along similar lines of our professional negligence claim against Chestnut Balls.

In other words, your actions in prematurely and hastily trying to ‘close the file’ on all this seems to not only confirm but exemplify the very complaint put to you that the LSC appears to have little if any interest in accountability in general – and also in the professional standards for this that is supposed to be the very rationale for the LSC existing (i.e. as a so-called industry ‘watch-dog’). As typified by the general perception of solicitors in the community (e.g. the many lawyer jokes around) this will not come as any great surprise to most people in the public realm. But I would have thought you might try to keep at least a little bit of pretence that you are genuine and serious watchdog organisation (as you claim). But no, not even an acknowledgement (as distinct from selective omissions as well as comprehensive evasion) of the many specific items which were reasonably self-evident and backed up by provided evidence. There was not even the smallest gesture of being interested in holding Chestnut Balls to account, to at least rap him over the knuckles to try and be more careful about his non-accountability in the future (or to remind him that careless and arrogant professional negligence can and does bring the profession into disrepute in the eyes of the public).

If you will not fairly investigate and/or respond to either initial complaint about the demonstrated professional negligence of Chestnut Balls (and also Martin Mallon) or the follow-up complaint about the self-evidently evasive and negligent response of Ms. Big Mac (in particular, her proud acknowledgement that she had not read the supporting evidence provided), then (a) you people should be ashamed of your apparent hypocrisy, deception and personal as well as professional bad faith, and (b) you would seem to need a genuine watchdog to hold you to account in the future. I will seek to assist with the latter and will follow your future efforts and progress carefully with interest. Sincerely, AW

Open letter to LSC #1  12/12/2017

I am seeking a ‘re-consideration’ of my complaint to the Commission of professional negligence against Chestnut Balls and his inexperienced assistant Martian Invader from Westside Story Solicitors. There are a number of related reasons around my related additional complaint (the central basis of our request for a re-consideration here). In particular, LSC complaints investigator Ms. Big Mac has comprehensively, repeatedly and with a perhaps similar kind of professional bad faith that was the focus the original complaint tried to justify ‘insufficient evidence’ as the excuse for ignoring and rejecting both overall complaint and a range of related and verifiable specific complaint. This is especially because of her inexcusable and self-incriminating admission at the outset of her report that “I have not reviewed the two large appendix files of documents” submitted to the Commission in support of our complaint (i.e. her apparent admission that she had failed to check the presented evidence or simply and wilfully ignored it).

This all further reflects how in my several dealings with Ms. Big Mac by email and phone (after she initially misrepresented the main items of complaint in what at that stage seemed an apparently rushed, superficial and even incompetent manner) it soon became pretty clear that Ms. Big Mac (a) had no real interest in a genuine attempt at properly investigating either the overall charge of professional negligence or a range of related specific examples, and (b) that her selective evasions were either professionally negligent also or rather just a clumsy effort at white-washing, covering-up and intentionally evading her responsibility on behalf of the Queensland Legal Services Commission – and therefore its advertised independent rationale to uphold suitable standards for the legal profession in Queensland. After her initial effort at reviewing and summarising our complaint (25/9/2017) was clearly inadequate, I sent to her (29/9/2017) a very detailed summary linked to specific examples of evidence that should have been difficult to ignore. Yet, seemingly reinforcing a later warning to us by an experienced Qld solicitor that the Commission ‘may not be as independent or serious as claimed’ about properly investigating our complaint, Ms. Big Mac in her final report continues to repeatedly ignore or disingenuously mis-represent relevant specific details in her report as well as selectively ignoring the key items of complaint and rather selectively misrepresenting others included.

 

I rang Ms. Big Mac on or around 13/10/2017  to check after submitting this and clarify the procedure, methodology and assurances of accountability which would be entailed with her inquiry. In this exchange she initially and inaccurately indicated that her complaint was the final, authoritative and definitive say on my complaint (i.e. I could not make any complain about any possible mishandling of my complaint) before ultimately conceding that a review could be an option if I was not happy. This was put to her because I had some significant new and damning evidence of the solicitor’s unethical behaviour trying to obstruct my daughter’s case with just weeks to go before she turned 21 and legal claim would permanently lapse. She initially refused to allow this additional submission before emailing later that day to agree to consider it on the basis of my point that if she did not and failed to uphold our complaint then we would have a strong basis to complain against her. In any case she basically ignored this in her final report anyway.

Most of the key items of complaint such as listed below were supported by provided evidence such as emails by the main solicitor (and also his assistant) making assurances that were not met. In other words, it was not only incompletely inappropriate, false and/or inadequate to suggest that ‘insufficient evidence’ was provided to make those specific complaints, but that the Commission had a responsibility to check with and give an opportunity to the solicitor to either confirm whether he had done what he said he would do (and had a professional responsibility to do) or at least provide a reasonable explanation about why he or his assistant had failed to do so. Naturally, as well as list very clear cut failed assurances (the very basis of our general and related specific complaints of professional negligence), we had further submitted in our general complaint additional specific complaints that the solicitors could not and/or would not address such questions when we had already contacted them to ask for an answer, an apology, and/or a concession that their behaviour had been unreasonable and unprofessional. And so, we believed they both would not and could not answer these questions nor the overall charge of systemic as well as regular and specific instances of indefensible and wholly inadequate professional negligence intentionally demonstrated with obvious bad faith.

A reminder that some of the related specific items of our general complaint that Westside Story Legal Principal Chestnut Balls had failed to follow up on a range of both initial and additional assurances of professional representation of my daughter’s insurance claim included the following:

  • That he would personally represent the claim through to and at the Compulsory Conference stage of the claim
  • That what he acknowledged was an inaccurate and ‘tainted’ barrister’s report years earlier (which caused the claim to be postponed for many years while the effects of her injury on my daughter could be better evaluated by relevant experts) would never be misused again.
  • That he personally would also directly respond to the inaccuracies, gambit response, and what he told us were the ‘unusually aggressive, personal and dishonest’ tactics of the solicitors representing the insurance company
  • That he also failed to follow upon written as well as regular verbal assurances that he would ‘soon’ respond to and challenge such inappropriate tactics and related inaccurate claims
  • That he then ‘lost interest’ in the case for some time before simply handing over the case to a very inexperienced assistant but not even informing us or communicating with us about this (an assistant who when he made some ‘mistakes’ admitted that he had not been properly briefed about the case)
  • That this effectively unsupervised assistant also (a) failed to follow up on written assurances to what he further agreed in writing were further false claims made by the other solicitors at the critical second stage of the claim negotiation (thus damaging the overall representation of the claim), and (b) contradicted instructions about the ‘tainted report’ referred to above (which was then was further misused) whilst also commissioning a barrister without our permission to make a new report and also replace Chestnut Balls at the upcoming Compulsory Conference
  • That Chestnut Balls only then intervened to effectively but disingenuously discontinue representation (quitting, leaving us in the lurch, copping out) using a demonstrably false pretext to effectively terminate his legal representation – but then still holding us to ransom with the case file.
  • That right up until the deadline before my daughters’ claim lapsed, Mr. Chestnut Balls’ refused to provide us with the File to find another replacement solicitor in time or put a value on this that might make it sufficiently attractive to get any prospective replacement to consider taking on the claim.
  • That after finally agreeing on a fixed price for the File (as documented evidence can confirm) Mr. Chestnut Balls dishonestly and maliciously as well as unethically reneged on this preventing us from being able to get the file in time before Compulsory Conference to allow an option of further legal option if negotiations failed.

If Ms. Big Mac had bothered to properly follow up on and investigate at least most of these key items of complaint, then this would have and should have (we are firmly convinced and reasonably so) then she should have confirmed the following in particular: that Chestnut Balls had failed to carry out a whole sub-list of his specific assurances (including normal legal representation procedures of follow-up required as well as reasonably expected in such cases), after inexcusable delays had further failed to advise us that he was no longer personally representing the case, that he was passing on this an inexperienced assistant who freely admitted not being properly briefed about the case, and that he effectively terminated the legal representation on a demonstrably false and inappropriate pretext to also avoid earlier documented assurances of effective representation at least at the compulsory conference. Likewise, as well as admissions about being out of being effectively (i.e. only nominally) unsupervised (only nominally ‘supervised’) the inexperienced assistant failed to make a second stage response despite assurances in writing to the contrary (significantly undermining the case), and likewise not only contradicted instructions as well as assurances about seeking a barrister report but proceeded to supply to the said barrister an earlier report Mr. Chestnut Balls had agreed was incorrect, tainted and not to be used (thus also tainting the new report).

In sum then, it appears that Ms Big Mac’s  failure to investigate our complaint properly and professionally was not just a matter also of demonstrated incompetence and general professional negligence herself (similar to that which was the basis of our original complaints). Ms. Big Mac has clearly ignored specific documented evidence and likewise clearly failed to directly confirm this with the solicitor (easily done if she had just asked if why he and his assistant failed to carry out assurances made and/or follow up as reasonably required or expected in such cases). As confirmed by her own admission that she had not bothered to check the evidence provided, there is sufficient evidence that Ms Big Mac has failed and/or refused to properly investigate our general and related complaints.

Furthermore,  the apparent intentional omissions, evasions and ‘refusals of good faith’ would also seem to be (a) counter to the Commission’s industry watchdog charter and its advertised commitments of efficacy and independence, and (b) not only a reasonable basis of our complaint here against Ms. Big Mac and related request for a formal re-consideration of our complaint but should be of great concern (i.e. a matter of public interest) for all Queenslanders.

Sincerely, Aussie Watchdogs

p.s. [As someone who has regularly taught research inquiry and methodology at university level, I make the following point in terms of how many of the fundamentals are the same for legal investigation such as notions of evidence, inquiry design, and an appropriate approach and attitude] I have to say that with her apparently non-genuine attitude and her careless view of evidence and inquiry, in my experience Ms. Big Mac could not have passed and should not have passed even a basic ‘inquiry’ course. All of this should also be of great concern to the Commission in terms of its claim (in response to reported criticisms in the media) that its serious and genuine about ‘improving its game’ and maintaining standards for solicitors in Qld

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