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Gold Coast solicitor struck off over excessive billing

A former Gold Coast solicitor has been struck off for professional misconduct that included an estimated $60,000 over-billing of an estate she was managing.

Queensland Civil and Administration Tribunal judicial member the Honourable Duncan McMeekin QC last week ordered Tracey Anne Smith be removed from the roll of solicitors in both Queensland and New South Wales.

Queensland’s Legal Services Commissioner referred Smith to the tribunal on 12 charges, including three alleging she dishonestly obtained $41,360 and attempted to dishonestly obtain $3280.

Smith, also known as Tracey-Anne Brewer, was also charged with three counts of receiving money into her general account, rather than her trust account, and six relating to estate or power of attorney matters while engaged in misconduct.

Mr McMeekin, in a seven-page decision published last Tuesday (26 October), said: “(Smith) has lost her (law) practice, her home, faces criminal charges, and bears the shame of losing her previous good name.

“To her credit (Smith) has accepted responsibility for her conduct and shown great respect for the disciplinary process. Through her solicitor she has apologised to her victims and the profession.”

Two days after being struck-off, the 50-year-old Smith faced Southport Magistrate Court and was handed a wholly suspended three-year jail term after pleading guilty to one count of fraud.

Mr McMeekin said Smith was admitted as a solicitor in January 1994 and practised as a sole practitioner of her own firm, Smith Legal Solutions, as an accredited specialist in succession law.

“On 2 August 2018, and after Ms Smith became aware that the (Legal Services Commissioner) had commenced investigations, including into matters involving charging professional fees when she was not so entitled, she notified the Legal Services Commission, through her lawyers, that she had been engaging in ‘inappropriate billing practice’,” he said.

“On 6 August 2018, Ms Smith handed in her practising certificate to Queensland Law Society.

“Only days thereafter, the Executive Committee of the Council of the QLS passed resolutions to appoint officers of the QLS, jointly and severally, as the receiver for the respondent’s law practice.”

The tribunal was told that Smith’s misconduct followed a common theme in which she authorised payments for large sums of money from her own trust account.

Mr McMeekin said Smith had co-operated significantly by way of handing back her practising certificate, assisting the LSC with its investigation, agreeing to orders to enable new lawyers to take over her estate files to the advantage of her clients, and cooperating with the prosecution of the disciplinary proceedings.

“Despite these mitigating features it is evident that in a case of serious dishonesty in the discharge of the professional duty the practitioner (Smith) must be struck off,” he said.

Read the decision.

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