A Victorian lawyer has been dragged through the mud for mishandling trust money and unsatisfactory professional conduct.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ordered that Melbourne based lawyer Margaret McAuley be reprimanded, fined and subject to a supervised practice order, following charges brought against her by the Legal Services Commissioner.
The beleaguered lawyer received trust monies without holding the appropriate authorisation to do so, failed to act on her client’s instructions as soon as reasonably possible, and failed to adequately respond to requests for information from the LSC, the VCAT said.
The Tribunal argues that McAuley received $5,500 from her client to obtain a second opinion from senior counsel in relation to the amount of damages likely to be received in his personal injuries claim. But the lawyer failed to seek an opinion and without authorisation applied the money received for this service to an outstanding account incurred by the client’s family for an unrelated matter.
After an investigation, the LSC brought two charges for professional misconduct and one charge for unsatisfactory professional conduct against McAuley, who pleaded guilty to all charges.
Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, said the whole debacle is a reminder to all lawyers to ensure they comply with their practising certificate obligations and, when authorised to deal with trust money, to adhere to all trust account requirements.
“Lawyers have an obligation under the Legal Profession Act 2004 to practise within the conditions imposed on their practising certificates. Failure to comply with those conditions may result in the regulator taking disciplinary action against the lawyer,” McGarvie said.
In their decision, VCAT said that “there is a need for general deterrence as a reminder to practitioners that there is a need to be absolutely scrupulous when it comes to the handling of client’s money”.
The Tribunal also raised lawyers’ responsibility to act quickly on client matters and to ensure that they have regard to their statutory responsibilities when requested to provide information by the LSC.
In addition to being reprimanded, McAuley was ordered to pay a fine of $8,000 to the Legal Services Board and be subject to a supervised practice order for 12 months. VCAT also ordered that she pay the LSC’s costs of $14,532.20.