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Litigation: Attorney's liability for advocate's fees confirmed

Given that an advocate in law may not receive instructions from a lay client, it has always been the practice, if not the law, that the client’s attorney is responsible for the payment of the advocate’s fees. That has been affirmed following a Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) ruling on a matter in which two advocates sought payment of outstanding fees owed in respect of legal services rendered to an attorney’s client, notes Legalbrief.

The attorney raised questions of law – whether he could be sued and held liable in his personal capacity for the alleged obligations of the law firm that briefed the advocates, without suing the firm; and whether the privity of contract lies between the advocates and the attorney or between the advocate and clients. Judge Pieter Meyer delved into the background on such matters and noted the evolving ‘professional practice or trade usage’ that the attorney is liable for the fees charged by the advocate he or she has briefed to a hardened rule of law that must be implied in the contract between the attorney and advocate as a matter of law. The court found the attorney liable for the fees and that the advocates need not sue his firm. The attorney was ordered to pay the fees claimed.

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