Commercial Law (Law514) Written mini-research assignment (Value: 30%)
Word Count: 1,500-2,000 max (including references and footnotes)
Raj responded to an advertisement in The Australian (newspaper) for a position as a para-legal in a law firm in the City of Darwin. The position involved the successful applicant undertaking basic office-work, including filing legal documents at court, managing the mail-room and reporting directly to a litigation partner of the NT-based firm.
Raj had just completed his degree in business law at the University of Adelaide and was excited when asked in for an interview. Mr Snowden, the managing partner who interviewed Raj was very impressed and hired Raj on the spot to start in four weeks’ time. Raj was given a contract to sign and, as contract law was his favourite subject at uni, he studied the terms of the contract very carefully. He noticed that a clause in the contract stated that in the event of Raj leaving the firm he could not work in any other NT law firm for a period of 12 months from the date of leaving the firm. He thought that sounded a bit unfair but wanted the job so badly he never questioned it further. The salary package also included the use of a car space in the garage under the building, but the contract specifically said that the firm would not take any responsibility for the vehicle whatsoever if it was left in the designated space ‘after hours’. Normal office hours for Raj were between 8am-6pm although it was common practice for staff to work a little longer. Another term in the contract said that on the successful completion of Raj’s probationary period of 6 months, he would have the opportunity move to the firm’s Adelaide office for a period of further orientation and development. One of the main reasons Raj applied for this position was because he wanted to eventually move back to Adelaide where he has family nearby.
In the first two weeks after Raj started the job, one of the firm’s clients, Ms Fifield, claimed that she was overcharged and is blaming Raj for some incompetence in calculating the bill. Raj disagrees. She is contemplating a costs appeal against the firm. In the third week, Raj is accused of asking a client with a special disability (vision impaired) to sign a document that is different to the one the client thinks it is. Raj is reported to the managing partner for this incident even though he claims he had not done this. From Raj’s perspective all he had asked the client to do was to sign a form that indicated he was aware of the costs disclosure document and that this had been fully explained. However, the client later said he thought he was signing a legal document allowing his daughter power of attorney over his financial affairs and now felt confused and that the firm was asking him to pay too much in legal fees.
The following week, Raj is involved in assisting on a piece of litigation involving a builder (named Jerry) who had not been paid for half the work he did on building a house. He was sacked because the owner wasn’t happy with his work and Jerry had not been paid anything for what he did. Jerry disagrees the work was sub-standard had he not signed the contract which his builders licence required him to do. He asked Raj whether contract law could provide him with a remedy.
After 12 months Raj takes three weeks leave and when he returned he was asked to work
until 7.30pm on his first day back. When he was finished for the day he left his car in its
usual car space while he went to get some take away dinner nearby. When he returned at
around 7.55pm he discovered that his car had been broken into in the car park under the
building. His mobile phone and laptop were stolen and the car’s driver’s side door-lock
damaged. Raj’s boss refused to compensate Raj for the damage done to his car or reimburse
him for his stolen mobile and laptop because the contract did not specifically cover for loss or
damage incurred to an employee’s property ‘after hours’. He was told to claim it on insurance
(but he does not have adequate insurance coverage). Raj had not been transferred to the
Adelaide office as indicated when he signed his contract and he leaves the firm to join
another legal practice within Darwin City. Raj’s former boss is now contemplating legal
action to prevent Raj from taking this new job as it is in breach of a condition of his contract
(i.e. by not waiting the required 12 months to find a similar position in the NT) as he fears
Raj may have enough information on the firm to take clients to the rival firm.
Identify as many legal issues as you can find in this scenario. Briefly advise Raj on each of
them and justify your answer with reference to relevant case law. (NB. Although the
scenario is in a work environment, the main aim is to apply the general principles of contract
law to the issues you identify. Show all your references and remember that references and
footnotes are a part of the word count. Do not exceed the word limit.)