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City Desk
5 December, 2007  
Barricades breached

NSW Law Society fails in bid to keep the great unwashed from appearing for clients in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. Where will the rot stop?

imageThe Law Society of NSW has failed in an attempt to stop a non-lawyer retail tenants’ advocate and agent from providing advice on lease disputes and from representing his clients in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

The Law Society brought an action seeking orders against Stephen Gary Spring and his company Lolly Pops (QVB) Pty Ltd, claiming he was providing legal services, and advertising those services, without being a lawyer, in violation of the Legal Profession Act.

His web site says:

“Forget ‘lawyerfests’! Disputes with landlords can financially cripple smaller retailers, but most are rectifiable retail business issues, not legal problems. We’ll represent you at informal meetings, mediation, Tribunals and Courts for types of retail lease problems such as breach of lease and lost profits claims. We only do retail lease disputes and are ‘street’ aware, ‘alive’ to the tricks and can distinguish ‘half-truths’ from the legal and retail reality – helping you and your landlord reach win-win outcomes.”

Work performed by Spring’s business encompasses legal sounding stuff, like…

“summons to produce, drafting correspondence to be sent to the solicitors for the other side, drafting and amending correspondence to be sent to the tribunal, corresponding with solicitors and the tribunal, drafting and amending affidavits, providing legal advice on costs, on statutory causes of action and on jurisdiction, advising how to proceed at the hearing and how to conduct it, advising on settlement and drafting submissions, as well as attending the tribunal, appearing there and adducing evidence, including by cross-examination, and making oral argument and submissions.”

Despite the fact that both the Retail Leases Act and the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act allow non-lawyers to represent a party, the Law Society argued that those provisions should be construed narrowly so as to limit the permitted representation to “actual, physical appearances in the Tribunal”.

Christine Adamson, for the Law Society, argued that Parliament through the Legal Profession Act had attached great importance to upholding the standards of the legal profession, and this narrow interpretation was required to be consistent with the prohibitions on persons without a practising certificate from doing legal work.

Justice Graham Barr was not convinced:

“The words ‘represent’ and ‘representation’ are not defined. In my opinion they should be construed in a broad and practical way. A party to proceedings in the Tribunal appoints a representative not to do some things and not others but to take on the case and see it through to a conclusion.”

He cited numerous other tribunals where non-lawyers were permitted to represent parties and concluded the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act “means what it says”.

Spring was doing nothing wrong, and neither was his website. The judge ordered the Law Society to pay his costs.

You can read Barr’s reasons in all their splendor here.