Linda Nalder is not to be employed by a practitioner or incorporated law firm in connection with their practice for 18 months from the time she resigned as a law firm employee, the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has ordered.
Ms Nalder resigned from her role as an employed legal executive on 13 November 2013 and so the order not to employ is no longer in force.
In  NZLCDT 5, Ms Nalder was charged with misconduct or, in the alternative, unsatisfactory conduct.
The Tribunal found her guilty of unsatisfactory conduct. She had accessed and discussed with another person (a family member of the client testator) the contents of a draft will that an employee of her firm had received instructions to prepare for a Mr C. She thereby breached a duty of confidentialty owed to Mr C by the firm that employed her.
Ms Nalder completely accepted, from the outset, her fault in disclosing the document, the Tribunal noted.
“She immediately resigned her job and apologised to the testator client. In addition her firm provided a full apology and Ms Nalder has provided evidence to the Tribunal, which is unchallenged, that this apology was accepted by the client as an entirely satisfactory outcome of this matter.
“She apologised fulsomely to not only the client but her employer and the New Zealand Law Society. She accepts that she knew that the duty of care owed to clients was important and that there was no excuse for her action.
“However she sets out the context of her guilt and distress at seeing the will’s provisions. This is offered as an explanation rather than excuse for her lapse in judg[e]ment.
“In our Oral decision of 12 February we made it very plain to Ms Nalder that the Tribunal considers confidentiality to be a core value in legal practice.”
However, in the circumstances the Tribunal considered that a one-off lapse of this sort would not have led (were Ms Nalder a lawyer) to strike-off on a first disciplinary offence. The relevant circumstances included that no actual harm was done to any person; that at the time Ms Nalder was both relatively inexperienced and an unregistered legal executive; that Ms Nalder came across the will by accident and not as a deliberate strategy; and that this was an isolated incident for which Ms Nalder immediately acknowledged her wrongdoing and took responsibility for it.
It therefore found that the lawyers standards committee had not proved on the balance of probabilities the charge of misconduct. Instead, it made the alternative finding of unsatisfactory conduct.
No costs orders were made against Ms Nalder, and the Law Society was ordered to pay $4,898 Tribunal costs.