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Senior lawyer dumped from roll for taking credit for paralegal’s work

A Supreme Court ordered a lawyer to be removed from the roll after it was told he took credit for his paralegal’s work and attempted to discredit her as part of a ploy to charge his client more.

user iconNaomi Neilson 09 May 2024 Big Law
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West Australian solicitor Richard James Lawson had his name removed from the roll of practitioners for the “grossly unfair” trick to charge his client more and the “utterly disgraceful” attempt to discredit a junior legal practitioner at the start of her career.

In July 2011, while representing a man facing extradition to the United States, Lawson presented an itemised bill that falsely represented he completed the work done by his paralegal.

The costs agreement between the two had a lump-sum fee capped at around $66,000, and any additional work would cost the client $110 per hour for the paralegal and $440 per hour for Lawson.


In a report to Western Australia’s Supreme Court, the State Administrative Tribunal (WASAT) said it “involved dishonesty and therefore serious impropriety affecting his character”.

WASAT added the conduct was “indicative of a failure to either understand or to practice precepts of honesty and fair dealing that are essential to the privilege and responsibilities of legal practice”.

In a letter to the Legal Profession Complaints Committee in October 2011, Lawson claimed the client was “very demanding” and he was forced to exclusively work for him during July.

However, evidence before the tribunal suggested this was false.

During costs assessment proceedings, Lawson submitted an affidavit and a bill of costs that falsely represented the work he had done.

While an updated bill of costs was sent to a client with a slightly smaller amount, Lawson also failed to pay back the difference.

WASAT found he engaged in professional misconduct by not only “grossly” overstating the number of hours he worked but also making false statements and repeating them to the committee, swearing false statements before a court, and for not refunding the client.

When the paralegal was called to give evidence against him, Lawson accused her of being “unprofessional” and made false statements about her being terminated for “unsatisfactory conduct”.

The Supreme Court was told Lawson did not demonstrate any remorse and had shown no insight into his conduct.

In deciding to strike his name from the roll, Justice Paul Tottle said it was important the court “sends a clear signal … that dishonest conduct of the nature and extent engaged in by [Lawson] is manifestly incompatible with his remaining on the roll and will not be tolerated”.

“The removal of the respondent’s name from the roll serves an important aspect of the public interest by demonstrating to the public that legal practitioners are required to observe the highest standards of honesty and integrity,” Justice Tottle said.