A SOLICITORS' firm was ordered to pay the costs incurred on behalf of a client in an aborted appeal because of gross dereliction of duty. Solicitors from Joseph C. T. Lee and Co are expected to be faced with a bill of several hundred thousand dollars following the Court of Appeal ruling. They also have to pay the costs of the defendant, who briefed leading QCs Mr Michael Thomas and Mr Andrew Chung. Neither Mr Lee nor the other partners were available for comment last night. ''The courts do not demand perfection from solicitors, but they do expect reasonably high standards of professionalism and almost invariably these are attained,'' Mr Justice Litton said in his judgement in open court. ''In this case there has been such ignorance and incompetence that it amounts to gross dereliction of duty by the solicitors.'' The case arose from a partnership dispute between Mr Ho Lee-man and Mr Wong Wai-kai, but the issue before the Court of Appeal was who should pay costs for an earlier nine-day hearing, which was aborted. At first Mr Ho was awarded costs, but on appeal before Deputy Judge Gladys Li QC this was overturned. Each party was ordered to bear its own costs except the defendant, Mr Wong, who was awarded costs for the two-day hearing. Mr Ho, represented by Joseph C. T. Lee and Co, wanted to appeal against that decision but when an appeal is on costs, leave must be obtained first. Leave was not obtained and an oral application made before the Court of Appeal was dismissed. ''The outcome is that all the costs incurred in preparing the two appeal bundles, totalling 630 pages, and of preparation for an appeal fixed for two days, which on the defendant's side included the briefing of a Queen's Counsel as well as junior counsel,became totally wasted,'' the court heard. At the end of the hearing, the court asked the solicitors to show why an order should not be made against them personally to bear the costs of the aborted appeal. Miss Cissy Lam, representing the firm, said Mr Ho was extremely insistent on appealing. However, the court said there was little evidence of this. In fact two Queen's Counsel had refused to act because they saw no merit in the case, and it would be odd if the client, if fully aware, would insist on incurring further costs. There was no evidence that anyone from the firm explained the contents of Deputy Judge Li's judgement - in particular, aspects where the conduct of the case was criticised. The solicitors had filed 14 grounds of appeal in court, many repeating themselves and some not grounds at all. They seemed to be trying to justify the conduct of the case on behalf of the plaintiff, the judgement said. ''How any solicitor could have thought that these were proper matters for determination by the Court of Appeal defies imagination,'' the judgement said. By this time, the judge said it seemed the lawyers had lost sight of what the litigation was about. Right from the initial hearing, the plaintiff had not proceeded in the normal way, found the court, which also comprised Mr Justice Bokhary and Mr Justice Sears.