Lawyer disbarred for professional misconduct

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A Canberra lawyer has been struck off for professional misconduct, after he admitted to misusing more than $47,000 of client money.

The ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal recommended that the lawyer, whose name has been supressed, be banned from practice.

In 2013, the lawyer sold his practice to another business, run by two lawyers, where he worked as a consultant, The Canberra Times reported.

A complaint filed with the ACT Law Society the following year by the two lawyers alleged that the lawyer had misappropriated $7000 in legal fees, which should have been paid to the new business under the sales agreement. 

But the man said the lawyers directed him to have his clients pay fees into the account of the former practice to then be transferred to the new business.  Despite asking the client to pay into a personal account rather than a trust, he claimed he hadn’t misused the money as he had given the business a cheque for the same amount of money.

The new business owners said they never received the cheque and the Law Society pursued disciplinary action over the matter in June last year.

Reports said the lawyer later admitted to misappropriating the funds and to other instances where he paid money into the practice account before withdrawing it.  His legal team submitted a document detailing 20 other payments, totalling $40,227, where the funds were misappropriated.

The court commended the lawyer for repaying all the money with interest and for not opposing the Law Society’s application, alerting the society to additional misused funds. 

Despite the commendations, tribunal members found him guilty of professional misconduct and said his actions were serious enough to have his name removed from the Supreme Court roll.

He was ordered to pay the Law Society’s costs.

The tribunal noted that the lawyer had taken steps to separate a legal practice in NSW and said the matter should be drawn to the attention of the NSW Law Society and Legal Services Commission.