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Canberra solicitor who employed a disqualified lawyer reprimanded, fined $8k

An ACT-based solicitor has been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct, fined $8,000 and reprimanded after hiring an ex-lawyer who was struck off the ACT roll, who had accessed over $60,000 in client funds without permission.

user iconLauren Croft 01 February 2023 The Bar
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In proceedings brought by the ACT Law Society in the territory’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal, lawyer Necia Wearne was fined $8,000 plus costs and was found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct by senior member Dominic Mulligan.

The charges against Ms Wearne relate to the employment of a disqualified lawyer as an administrative assistant at her firm and for misleading the Law Society in 2018. There were also three other charges brought against Ms Wearne, but those were dismissed by Mulligan SM.

In 2018, Ms Wearne, who owns Falcon Legal, was contacted by Mark Slater, who, after being the principal solicitor of his own law practice for five years, then made a voluntary disclosure to the Law Society regarding improper use of trust funds.


After admitting to accessing those client funds totalling $63,286.50, Mr Slater was found guilty of professional misconduct in February 2015, with the tribunal recommending that his name be struck off the ACT roll of solicitors.

Three years later, Mr Slater wrote to Ms Wearne’s then-business partner seeking employment and advised of his disqualification from the profession. Ms Wearne then hired him on a casual basis as an administrative assistant in September 2018 before he became a casual paralegal in November 2018. However, in both instances, Mr Slater’s employment was not approved by the Law Society.

In a joint submission to the ACAT, signed by both Ms Wearne and the ACT Law Society, it was noted that Ms Wearne did not consult the Legal Profession Act 2006 in hiring Mr Slater nor performed any research, asked other legal practitioners for guidance or asked the Law Society for guidance. 

Whilst Mulligan SM conceded that Ms Wearne was under “significant financial, business, family and personal stress” at the time, it was clear she knew Mr Slater had been struck off, but she believed she could employ him in an administrative capacity.

“Ms Wearne also highlighted that Mr Slater was only employed by her for a short period of six weeks and that he did not have access to the trust account. Ms Wearne conceded that on a small number of occasions (six or seven) Mr Slater exceeded his authority and signed emails which described himself as a paralegal,” the judgment stated.

“I also note that whilst Mr Slater should not have been employed by Ms Wearne, it is not alleged that he caused any loss to any of her clients.”

According to the joint submission, in November 2018, Ms Wearne had a telephone call with a practitioner from another firm — who had received emails from Mr Slater in a professional capacity while he was employed by Ms Wearne — informing her that she needed “... permission [from the Law Society] to employ Mr Slater in ANY capacity”.

Ms Wearne subsequently emailed the Law Society for advice and assistance on the employment of Mr Slater, which advised it would need a submission regarding a request to employ Mr Slater.  

According to the joint submission, this should “include details of the type of work Mr Slater would be doing and the supervision arrangements” and that Mr Slater’s submission could be heard by the council. 

The joint submission also alleged that in a phone conversation with another practitioner on 16 November 2018, Ms Wearne said that she had “put [Mr Slater] on as an admin person yesterday’’ or, alternatively, “had employed him yesterday’’, that she had given him an offer but the paperwork was yet to be signed and that she had not paid him. 

On 16 November 2018, Ms Wearne terminated Mr Slater’s employment. 

The Law Society then raised a complaint against Ms Wearne in February 2019, and in the following month, Ms Wearne confirmed that she did employ Mr Slater from early September of the previous year.

However, Ms Wearne has been the subject of disciplinary action on three other occasions, two of which pre-date her breaches in this matter.

In 2015, Ms Wearne was found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct for witnessing documents in her client’s absence, in an investigation completed by the ACT Legal Aid Commission. Whilst Ms Wearne’s client had asked her to complete a statutory declaration, they were not present when Ms Wearne signed it and had not seen nor approved it prior.

Additionally, in 2018, another one of Ms Wearne’s clients made a complaint alleging that she had “failed to provide adequate costs disclosure”, according to the judgment, for which — the Law Society’s professional standards manager said — there was a “reasonable likelihood [she] would have been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct” had the matter been referred to the tribunal.  

Lastly, in 2019, the ACT Law Society received a complaint from one of Ms Wearne’s clients, who alleged that her firm attached the wrong form to a purported Home Buyers Concession Scheme Application.

While “there was a reasonable likelihood that [Ms Wearne] would be found guilty by the ACAT of unsatisfactory professional conduct” if the matter was referred to the tribunal, Ms Wearne received a public reprimand and was “required to undertake a practice management [course] approved by the Law Society within six months”, an order which she complied with.

“The effect of the two prior breaches committed by the respondent is that she cannot be viewed as a first offender by the tribunal and cannot expect the same degree of leniency a person first coming before the tribunal can expect,” Mulligan SM said in his judgment.

Ms Wearne was ordered to pay a fine of $8,000 as well as the Law Society’s costs, to a total sum of $20,000, both of which are to be paid in instalments.

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