A man whose career skewed a little too close to a plot line from US TV drama Suits has been fined and ordered to serve an in-community jail term for practising as a lawyer without a licence.
Matthew Laba pleaded guilty to six charges relating to his unqualified legal practice, allegations brought in a private prosecution by the Law Society of NSW.
The charges stemmed from allegations he had acted without a licence as a solicitor in NSW courts, including cross-examining witnesses and making submissions before magistrates.
The 29-year-old sat in the front row of the public gallery in Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday as magistrate Daniel Covington described his case as a “unique set of circumstances”.
"There's no case law on a similar type of matter,” Mr Covington said, adding Laba had no history of fraud but the charges involved serious misconduct.
The magistrate noted the intense media interest in Laba's case because of its similarity to that of Suits character Mike Ross, who poses as a lawyer in a high-end law firm with far-reaching consequences.
Laba’s case had been moved for him to be sentenced by a magistrate he had not appeared before during his offending.
Mr Covington said it became obvious "something wasn't right" when questions were asked of Laba's practising certificate, which he was unable to produce, during a January 2022 hearing.
Rather than "falling on his sword", Laba chose to maintain the lie he was qualified to represent clients after misleading the court on a number of occasions, the magistrate said.
"The community suffers because the justice system is put into disarray when people appear in court when they shouldn’t," Mr Covington said.
He said courts did not "google everybody's name" to ensure they were licensed.
A conviction was recorded for all six charges and he was handed a nine-month intensive corrections order - a type of custodial sentence served in the community.
It will be served alongside two concurrent, 18-month community corrections orders.
Laba was also fined $16,000 and ordered to attend psychological treatment, as well as pay the Law Society's costs.
Law Society of NSW president Cassandra Banks said Laba never held a practising certificate in an Australian jurisdiction.
"The convictions and sentence imposed ... should serve as a deterrent to people tempted to engage in unqualified legal practice and/or falsely represent an entitlement to engage in legal practice," she said.
"People in need of legal advice and advocacy have a right to expect that the person they have retained to provide these services is qualified to do so."