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Around The Firms
10 April, 2003  
The country firm that charges like a bull...

After a three year investigation the Law Institute of Victoria has laid 300 charges against three country solicitors. Overcharging, not putting WorkCover money through the trust account, the works. $1 million of the booty has been paid back to the dudded clients

Bleak City has been rocked by news of one of the most extensive legal overcharging rorts ever prosecuted in Victoria.

Leading rustic personal injury firm Mitchell McKenzie and Co (offices in Echuca, Moama and until recently Melbourne) has fallen foul of the Law Institute of Victoria in a big way.

Hundreds of charges of gross overcharging were filed against the firm in the Legal Profession Tribunal.

As well, three of Mitchell McKenzie’s partners – Mark Ryan, Geoff Waters and Victor Hamit – have been charged with professional misconduct, mostly in relation to overcharging. They must be miffed.

Apparently, it was a tip-off from an anonymous whistleblower that got the Law Institute bloodhounds sniffing around for evidence of alleged avarice.

The sleuthing took the LIV three years and has resulted in 300 charges against the three musketeers.

The LIV alleges that the firm, which advertises itself on the net (the site is currently under ‘reconstruction’) as providing “practical, cost-effective solutions for legal problems” overcharged its country cousins by around $850,000.

Amounts from WorkCover were apparently not paid into the trust account and clients did not receive proper statements of account to clients. There was also overcharging associated with the firm’s no-win, no-fee caper.

Faced with the obvious, Mitchell McKenzie did a deal with the Law Institute, agreeing to pay back the excess loot.

In the past eighteen months almost $1 million (which includes interest) has been repaid to the plundered clients.

In the view of at least one of the firm’s partners, Mark Ryan, this magnanimity should be viewed as the end of the matter.

The firm denies “fault”. In a statement issued to The Age, Ryan claimed that “no client had suffered financial loss”. He stressed that Mitchell McKenzie had cooperated fully with the institute’s investigations and it (the firm) had taken steps to ensure that there was no possibility of “a repetition of these events”.

The Law Institute isn’t exactly taking Ryan’s word for it.

The matter is expected to be heard by the Legal Profession Tribunal within twelve months. No one seems to be rushing.

Latest story from The Age’s Fergus Shiel