“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur” – Red Adair

The Supreme Court of Western Australia has unanimously dismissed the appeal of a man convicted of advertising (on Gumtree) that he was entitled to engage in legal practice, when he was not an Australian legal practitioner.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is available here.

In February 2015 Ric Van Der Feltz advertised on the website Gumtree in the terms depicted in the image, inset (click to enlarge).

In July 2016 the Magistrates Court sentenced Mr Van Der Feltz to pay a fine of $2,500, and ordered that he pay costs of $8,372.95.

The primary judge stated (with emphasis added):

The prohibition on representing or advertising that a person is entitled to engage in legal practice when they are not, is part of a framework to ensure that only those with appropriate qualifications can perform legal work. These provisions serve the purpose of protecting members of the public from those who, due to their lack of qualifications, could expose them to financial risks and risks to their liberty. These prohibitions do not exist to give lawyers a commercial advantage but to recognise that the public interest is best served by ensuring that only appropriately qualified people can do legal work. Advertising will, generally, be less serious than actually doing legal work when not qualified to do so. However, the prohibition on advertising ensures that pre-emptive action can be taken to avoid risks to the public …

The advertisement in this case encouraged unsuspecting litigants to think that, with the assistance of the appellant, they could safely represent themselves and avoid the expense of a lawyer. The danger of this was illustrated by these proceedings. The appellant did not show any particular skill or ability in defending himself. By his own admission he was at a disadvantage as compared to the experienced counsel representing the respondent. Litigants who believed the representations in the advertisement could well have acted to their prejudice by engaging the appellant in preference to a lawyer”.