New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer suspended for 12 months for acting outside terms of practising certificate and “woeful performance” for a client

Lawyer suspended for 12 months for acting outside terms of practising certificate and “woeful performance” for a client

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) has suspended Stephen Potter for a period of 12 months following on from its earlier findings that Mr Potter had engaged in misconduct by accepting instructions to act as an employment representative while working as an employed lawyer.  The Tribunal also found Mr Potter had engaged in unsatisfactory conduct by failing to act in a timely and competent manner and directing payment of $5,800 into his personal bank account.

The Tribunal noted that Mr Potter lacked support and guidance from a mentor at the time and that he failed to recognise and observe professional boundaries.  While he was employed by a sole practitioner, this arrangement had not provided Mr Potter or the public with the oversight that Mr Potter needed.  The Tribunal noted that there was a lot to commend Mr Potter on, including his academic successes, but that there were still concerns about his ability to practise safely.

While the Tribunal wanted to retain Mr Potter’s opportunity of a career, it needed to give weight to its obligation to consider the protection of the public.  It noted that Mr Potter had not been able to provide the Tribunal with organised material when his own interests were at stake and questioned whether he could organise himself adequately to marshal material on behalf of clients.

The Tribunal referred to Mr Potter’s two previous periods of suspension, which were imposed in 2014 and 2018 respectively.  The 2018 matter involved issues of disorganisation, which was a theme that had continued in the current case.  The Tribunal noted that a 2014 order prohibiting him from practising on his own account unless authorised by the Tribunal remained in force.  Mr Potter also owes the New Zealand Law Society a significant sum of money which he is only paying off in small weekly sum.  The Tribunal held this is inconsistent with a desire to be a member of the profession.

While the Tribunal noted that it would like to welcome Mr Potter back into practice once he is able to do so, if he were to reappear on charges of a similar gravity then the severe option of a strike off would be a real possibility.  The Tribunal stressed that Mr Potter’s practice of law needed to be on a safe basis and that he needed to demonstrate a willingness to accept the obligations that company the status and privileges that come with being a lawyer.

The Tribunal suspended Mr Potter for 12 months and imposed a condition on his suspension that he needs to provide evidence that he will have active and ongoing supervision from an appropriate senior lawyer before he will be issued with a new practising certificate.  He will also need to provide evidence that he has a realistic prospect of paying his debts to the Law Society.  Mr Potter was ordered to pay the costs of the prosecuting Standards Committee and to reimburse the Law Society for the Tribunal’s costs.  He was also ordered to repay the $5,800 that was paid into his personal bank account.  The order prohibiting Mr Potter from practising on his own account remains in force.

Read the penalty decision on the Tribunal’s website
Read the liability decision summary