Commissioner reminds lawyers of integrity traps
August 3, 2012
The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria at Melbourne today has found a law firm employee guilty of two charges of commencing employment in a law practice without having first informed his prospective employer of his previous relevant prior convictions. He was convicted and fined $2,000 following charges brought against him by the Legal Services Board.
The Board brought both charges against the individual after receiving information that he had been employed as a lay associate (non-lawyer employee) of a local law practice despite having convictions for dishonesty offences. The Board’s investigation revealed that in the previous 12 months he had become a lay associate of two local law practices, without informing the law practices of his prior convictions.
Legal Services Commissioner and Board CEO, Michael McGarvie, said that this law was not often fully understood by partners of law firms. Failing to follow the strict rules of integrity and honesty in the legal profession can have very serious consequences for the employee, or potentially the law firm. In this case the firm did not know of his prior convictions, so the criminal penalty applies to the employee. Law firms can employ an individual with prior convictions, however they must first get permission from the Board before employing the individual. In this field, rules of integrity extend beyond licensed lawyers to ‘lay associates’ as well.
“Heavy criminal penalties apply to employees themselves if they fail to notify their employer of this information. Lawyers employing staff can risk major disciplinary findings that could imperil their practising certificates when employing non-legal people who have been found guilty of dishonesty offences like theft. The reputation of firms can suffer as a result of either of these outcomes. They must get the regulator’s permission if they are to avoid major penalties. This issue is highlighted by the findings in the Magistrates’ Court today”.
The individual was also ordered to pay the Board’s costs of $5,000. Although the charges were admitted in this case, he has 28 days to appeal the sanction.