Free advice

A recent case in Britain highlights the risks associated with giving free advice.  It is very tempting to be casual in arrangements with friends or with the club where you are a member, but in the case of Burgess vs Lejonvan, architect Lejonvan got dragged into rather prolonged legal action over some apparently innocuous landscape design done for free. 

Without going into the details of the case the lessons are as follows:

  • The absence of a formal written agreement does not mean that a professional duty of care (in tort) doesn’t exist.  It’s worth noting that in a similar situation in New Zealand, if you are a registered architect, you could also face a complaint to the NZRAB for failure to observe rule 58A of the Code of Ethics.
  • Even if no fee is paid, you are considered to be providing professional services and so are bound to the same standards of exercising reasonable skill and care as if you were being paid.

So…what should you do in such a situation?  Well it is always advisable to document your terms of engagement – particularly in the context of the NZRAB Code of Ethics.  If you are asked to provide advice or an opinion outside of a work situation be clear that any views/opinions you provide are not in a professional capacity and that they cannot be relied upon.

Besides, based on recent figures of fee incomes in our profession, where is the justification to undervalue our services by doing free work at all?