Struck off for persistent dishonesty

In Legal Services and Complaints Committee v Lawson,1 the court ordered for the practitioner’s name to be removed from the roll as he was found to have engaged in a persistent course of dishonest conduct over six years towards his client and regulatory authorities.

The court endorsed and adopted the observations of the State Administrative Tribunal in a report which recommended that the practitioner be removed from the roll,2 and reiterated that ‘the court must send a clear signal to the community and the profession that dishonest conduct of the nature and extent engaged in by the respondent is manifestly incompatible with his remaining on the roll and will not be tolerated.’3

The tribunal’s report

In disciplinary proceedings4 before the tribunal, the practitioner was found to have engaged in nine counts of professional misconduct. The conduct relevant to the originating application occurred in circumstances where the practitioner was retained to represent a client that was facing extradition to the United States. The client had signed two costs agreements with the practitioner which provided for a lump sum fee with additional work outside of the scope of the arrangement to be charged at $440 per hour for the practitioner’s time and $110 per hour for a paralegal’s time.

The client subsequently terminated the retainer, and the practitioner rendered an invoice of $27,500. The practitioner provided an itemised account to the client which falsely represented the work of the law graduate to be his own and grossly overstated the number of hours work undertaken by him. The practitioner then made several false statements to the Legal Profession Complaints Committee (‘the Committee’) concerning the number of hours work undertaken by him for the client.

In response to enquiries from the Committee, the practitioner repeated his false claims that the costs charged to the client were for work undertaken by him, and provided the Committee with a statement from his wife that wrongly suggested that the law graduate’s employment was terminated due to ‘unsatisfactory conduct and financial concerns’.

In costs assessment proceedings commenced by the client, the practitioner then relied on an affidavit that purported to verify the work he claimed to be undertaken by him and filed a bill of costs for assessment knowing that it contained entries that were false. He also failed to refund the client the difference between the amount charged and the amount of the costs sought to be justified by the bill of costs filed in the proceedings.


The practitioner repeated the false statements made to the Committee to the Legal Practice Board in support of an application to renew his practising certificate.


The nine findings of professional misconduct were made following a hearing over seven days at which the practitioner contested all the allegations other than the allegation concerning his failure to repay his client. The tribunal found the practitioner’s conduct towards his client to be grossly unfair, and involved serious dishonesty resulting in “serious impropriety affecting his character”.5 The tribunal also considered it utterly disgraceful for the practitioner to have impugned the competence and honesty of the law graduate, who was a very junior legal practitioner at the start of her legal career.6

In consideration of the tribunal’s report, the court held that the practitioner’s persistent dishonesty in his dealings with his client, the Committee and the Legal Practice Board were incompatible with his continued membership of the legal profession. The court ordered for the practitioner’s name to be removed from the roll.

1 [2024] WASC 158 (‘Supreme Court proceedings’).
2 Legal Profession Complaints Committee v Lawson [2021] WASAT 152 (S).
3 Supreme Court proceedings (n 1) [22].
4 Legal Profession Complaints Committee v Lawson [2021] WASAT 152.
5 Ibid [83].
6 Ibid 8.

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