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Lawyer confronts former employer in court over retainer

Tensions arose when a lawyer retained her first legal employer to assist her with a major and drawn-out Federal Court proceeding.

user iconNaomi Neilson 23 May 2024 Big Law
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When a personal issue landed in the Federal Circuit Court, Madhu Dubey turned to Robert Chrzaszcz & Associates, the Adelaide-based firm she worked for at the beginning of her legal career.

At first, the firm was reluctant to act, but Dubey persisted.

Despite the proceedings expected to be “relatively straightforward”, the “interlocutory skirmishing” stretched it out to four years.


By the end of it, Dubey and the firm were at odds over fees and turned to the South Australian Supreme Court to settle the matter.

There was no dispute that Dubey authorised Robert Chrzaszcz & Associates to take money out of the trust account, but the two clashed over whether one of the payments covered all the fees owed.

The second issue before the court related to a discussion Dubey was said to have had with the firm’s principal after the litigation was resolved.

Robert Chrzaszcz & Associates said it sent a final account to Dubey, who responded with surprise at the amount.

The principal told the court he agreed to discount the bill by 30 per cent and took that final agreed amount from the trust.

However, Dubey objected to this, telling the court that while the matter had been discussed, no decision was reached.

In the end, the matter turned on the evidence of witnesses, and it was decided Dubey’s account would not be “largely accepted”.

Both issues were resolved in favour of the firm.

What remained was the taxation of the legal costs.

However, following a final order made last November fixing the amount of costs owed by Dubey, she informed the Supreme Court that she no longer wanted to pursue the taxation.

Judge Graham Dart said this meant the matter could now be resolved by “simply ordering that costs follow the event”.

“In all the circumstances, the respondent has been successful and should have its costs,” Judge Dart said.