Master Terms of Business

Whenever you engage our firm to help with your legal needs, our services are provided to you in accordance with our Master Terms of Business (Terms) which include all information required to be provided to clients by the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers of the NZ Law Society.

The services we will provide for you are outlined in our engagement letter.  No tax advice will be provided.

People Responsible for the Work
The names and status of the people who will have overall responsibility for the services we will provide for you are set out in our engagement letter.

Client Care and Service
The Law Society client care and service information is set out below. Whatever legal services your lawyer is providing, he or she must:

  • Act competently, in a timely way, and in accordance with instructions received and arrangements made.
  • Protect and promote your interests and act for you free from compromising influences or loyalties.
  • Discuss with you your objectives and how they should best be achieved.
  • Provide you with information about the work to be done, who will do it and the way the services will be provided.
  • Charge you a fee that is fair and reasonable and let you know how and when you will be billed.
  • Give you clear information and advice.
  • Protect your privacy and ensure appropriate confidentiality.
  • Treat you fairly, respectfully and without discrimination.
  • Keep you informed about the work being done and advise you when it is completed.
  • Let you know how to make a complaint and deal with any complaint promptly and fairly.

The obligations lawyers owe to clients are described in the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers. Those obligations are subject to other overriding duties, including duties to the courts and to the justice system.

If you have any questions, please visit or call 0800 261 801.

Duty of Care
Our duty of care is to you and not to any other person. Before any other person may rely on our advice, we must expressly agree to this in writing.

Privacy and Confidentiality
We will hold in confidence all information concerning you or your affairs that we acquire during the course of acting for you.  We will not disclose any of this information to any other person except to the extent necessary or desirable to carry out your instructions or to the extent required by law, or the Law Society's Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers.

The fees we will charge or the manner in which they will be arrived at, are set out in our engagement letter.

Our professional fees are based on NZ Law Society guidelines and will take into account all relevant factors including:

  • The time spent on your work
  • The skill, specialised knowledge and responsibility required
  • The importance of the matter to you and the results achieved
  • The urgency and circumstances under which the business is transacted or the advice given
  • The degree of risk assumed by the lawyer including value or amount of any property or money involved
  • The complexity of the matter and the difficulty or novelty of the questions involved
  • The experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer
  • The possibility that acceptance of the particular retainer will preclude engagement of the lawyer by other clients
  • Whether the fee is fixed or conditional
  • Any quote or estimate given by the lawyer
  • Any fee agreement entered into between the lawyer and client
  • The reasonable costs of running a practice
  • The fee customarily charged in the market and locality for similar legal services

A key consideration is usually the time spent by professional staff on the engagement at charge out rates appropriate to their levels of skill, experience and responsibility.  Charge out rates change from time to time and are available on request.  They currently range from $100 to $450 per hour.

Where the engagement letter specifies an estimated fee, please note any estimate is given in good faith based upon the information we have received to date, and our previous experience in such matters.  If we find an estimate is likely to be exceeded, we will advise you promptly.

In providing services we may incur expenses or have to make payments to third parties on your behalf.  We may require an advance payment for such expenses or alternatively they will be included in our invoice to you. 

GST is payable by you on our fees and expenses.

By instructing us, you accept liability for our account and authorise us to deduct any fees or expenses for which we have provided an invoice from amounts pre-paid by you or from funds held on your behalf in our trust account. 

We will send interim invoices to you, usually monthly and on completion of the matter, or on termination of our engagement. All invoices are payable within 14 days of the date of the invoice. Interest will accrue on unpaid accounts at the rate of 2% per month from the due date until payment, and you will be responsible for any reasonable debt collection costs that we incur in recovering amounts due to us. If any fees or expenses are overdue by more than 30 days then you agree to charge as a mortgage any interest in any property you have to secure payment of all monies due to us. You will upon demand in writing being made execute in favour of us a mortgage to secure payment of all monies due to us and irrevocably appoint us your attorney to sign the mortgage if you have not done so within 7 days of demand being made.

Suspension of Service
We reserve the right to stop work on your retainer if accounts are not paid on time or a request for information remains unsatisfied.

Termination of Service
You may terminate our retainer at any time.

We may terminate our retainer in any of the circumstances set out in the Law Society's Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers. If our retainer is terminated you must pay us all fees due up to the date of termination and all expenses incurred up to that date.

Third Parties and Joint Clients
If we receive instructions from you in your capacity as a director or shareholder of a limited liability company or as a settlor or trustee of a trust or estate or on behalf of any third party it is our usual practice to require your personal guarantee.  Such instructions are accepted on the basis that you are personally liable for payment of our fees and expenses if the third party fails to pay us.  This applies even though our invoices may at your request or with your approval be directed to the third party. 

In cases where instructions are received from more than one client jointly, such clients will be jointly and severally liable for payment of our fees and expenses.

Lawyers Fidelity Fund 
The Law Society maintains the Lawyers Fidelity Fund to provide clients of lawyers with protection against pecuniary loss arising from theft by lawyers. The maximum amount payable by the Fidelity Fund by way of compensation to an individual claimant is limited to $100,000. Except in certain circumstances specified in the Lawyers & Conveyancers Act 2006, the Fidelity Fund does not cover a client for any loss relating to money that a lawyer is instructed to invest on behalf of the client, including funds placed on deposit with a bank.

Professional Indemnity Insurance 
We hold professional indemnity insurance that meets or exceeds the minimum standards from time to time specified by the Law Society.  As with all insurances this cover has limitations and is subject to certain exclusions, terms and conditions.

If you have any complaint about our service please raise it with the partner responsible for your matter, or, if you prefer, with any other partner in our firm.  If it cannot be resolved immediately to your satisfaction we will appoint a partner who has not been involved in your matter to deal with it promptly and fairly. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you have the right to take the matter up with the NZ Law Society which runs a complaints service and may be contacted at PO Box 5041, Lambton Quay, Wellington 6145, phone 0800 261 801 or email

Retention of Files and Documents
You authorise us (without further reference to you) to destroy all files and documents for this matter (other than any documents that we are required to hold in safe custody for you) 7 years after our engagement ends, or earlier if we have converted those files and documents to an electronic format.   

Electronic Communication
We may correspond with you and others by electronic communication, unless you instruct us not to do so. Electronic communications are not secure. They may be read, copied or interfered with in transit or may contain viruses or other defects. We will not be responsible for any of the risks associated with electronic communication.

Conflicts of Interest
We have procedures in place to identify and respond to conflicts of interest. If a conflict of interest arises we will advise you of this and follow the requirements and procedures set out in the Law Society's Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers.

Consent to Release of Information
You acknowledge that we are legally obliged to provide information to 3rd parties in relation to matters arising in respect of Foreign Trusts, FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) & CRS (Common Reporting Standard) International Treaties and in relation to the provision of the AML/CFT Act (Anti-Money Laundering & Countering Financing of Terrorism Act). No legal liability shall attach to us in relation to such disclosure. You agree to immediately notify us in writing of any change to your Foreign Trust, FATCA, CRS, AML, or CFT status.

Trust Account
We maintain a trust account for all funds received from clients (except monies received for payment of our invoices).  Where significant funds are held on your behalf these may be placed on interest bearing deposit with a bank where this is practicable having regard to the FATCA/CRS compliance costs now involved.  An administration fee of 7.5% of any interest earned will be charged. 

These Terms apply to any current or future engagement, whether or not we send you another copy of them.  We may update our Terms from time to time and we will give notice to you by publishing the latest Terms on our website.

Our relationship with you is governed by New Zealand law and New Zealand courts have non-exclusive jurisdiction.

Limitation of Liability
To the extent permitted by law, you agree that our total liability to you in connection with this matter, or on any related matters on which you engage us, will not exceed $500,000 including interest, costs and any other  loss (the liability cap).

The liability cap applies to liability of any kind, regardless of how it arises, whether in contract, in tort (including negligence), statute, equity or otherwise.

If we provide services to any persons or entities related to or associated with you or to anyone else at your request (whether or not we also advise you) on a matter or series of related matters then our aggregate liability to you and all those persons and entities in relation to that matter (or series of related matters) will be subject to the liability cap. You must ensure that those persons or entities agree to this.

The liability cap accrues for the benefit of any partner, employee, or agent of ours that may have acted in connection with the matter, so that in no instance will the liability of any person, and all persons claimed against in the aggregate, be for more than the liability cap.

Downie Stewart Lawyers Dunedin 8th Level, 265 Princes St, Dunedin, 9016 03-477 2263
PO Box 1345, Dunedin 9054 |  Fax: 03 477 4021  |  E: