Charge and countercharge of overcharging in Sydney

Is the expression “excessive legal costs” tautological?

Cynics might say so but not our regulators.

Section 4.4.4(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Vic) makes the “charging of excessive legal costs in connection with the practice of law” (surely a further tautology) conduct capable of constituting either ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’ or ‘professional misconduct’.

New South Wales’ equivalent legislation saw former high-flying personal injuries soli Russell Keddie struck off last month for just such professional misconduct.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald account here Keddie’s bill of $819,000 to his paraplegic client was $215,00 too high.

Keddie is unlikely to miss his ticket – he retired before he was rubbed out.

Perhaps with a view to the many similar claims against him and his former firm, he also declared himself bankrupt last month.

Keddie’s sagging public reputation is unlikely to be assisted by reports (like further SMH yarns here and here) that before his bankruptcy he transferred his half share in two properties worth a combined $6 million to his wife for – you guessed it – a single dollar each.

The SMH has given the Keddies story a lot of air since 2008 but in Victoria only readers of the Oz are likely to have heard of it.

Keddie’s eponymous firm was once NSW’s leading personal injury plaintiffs’firm. Slater & Gordon took it over for a reported $32 million in 2010. By then Keddies had been been already in strife with NSW’s Legal Services Commissioner for at least 4 years.

Radio National revisited the Keddies saga in Background Briefing last Sunday, 22 July 2012 – audio here and transcript here.

Some highlights from the ABC’s retelling:

  • Aggrieved Keddies clients have already racked up approximately $4 million in judgments against the firm’s three former partners;
  • The ABC speculates that the total overcharging judgments might eventually top $11 million;
  • Enforcement of those judgments is likely to be problematic. Of the three ex-Keddies partners sued, one is already bankrupt and the other two have reportedly had their assets frozen;
  • The overcharging claims against Keddies have been spear-headed by solicitor Stephen Firth with the apparent assistance of some ex-Keddies Deep Throat(s);
  • Coincidentally, Stephen Firth is himself defending several overcharging claims. The plaintiffs’ solicitor in those cases? None other than ex-Keddies partner (and defendant to many Firth-issued overcharging writs) Tony Barakat.

Firth has been forthright in his pursuit of Keddies – see his website here where he boasts of 11 wins totalling $1.5 million in Keddies cases for the month of April alone.

And Barakat is not bashful either. See his comments to The Australian here about the claims against Firth.

Only in Sin City?