A Melbourne lawyer has been reprimanded by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for issuing and maintaining legal proceedings without obtaining the necessary client authority.
The legal services commissioner said the ruling should act as a warning to lawyers who practice in areas where they lack expertise.
An order by the VCAT, issued on 30 May, restricted Daniel Oldham to practicing in specific areas of the law following an investigation into alleged professional misconduct in two separate bushfire class actions.
He pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him by Victoria’s legal services commissioner, Michael McGarvie.
McGarvie said the case highlights the dangers of lawyers undertaking legal work in areas of law where their knowledge or experience is limited.
“Oldham had no prior experience of dealing with class actions, nor did he adequately research or understand the legal requirements or processes relating to this complex area of law,” said McGarvie.
Oldham issued legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria in December 2008 for a class action in relation to the Alpine Bushfires. He issued separate legal proceedings in February 2009 for a class action in relation to the Black Saturday Bushfires. On both occasions, Oldham listed the names of individual clients as the lead plaintiffs without their prior knowledge or consent.
He also caused costs to be ordered against the lead plaintiff in the Black Saturday Bushfires class action because he didn’t know the lead plaintiff’s obligations under the Supreme Court Act 1986, revealed McGarvie.
Oldham can now practice only in the areas of building law, construction law, property law and owners corporation law for a period of two years. He was also ordered to pay $30,000 towards the legal services commissioner’s costs of the proceedings.