The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulates solicitors in England and Wales. These mostly toe the line it lays down. If they don’t the SRA keeps no prisoners. Take the case of a sole probate practitioner in York who ‘borrowed money’ to keep his practice afloat.
Legal Futures Reveals All the Details on May 29, 2019
The solicitor’s strictly illegal behaviour continued for a period of eight long years. During this time he provided false statements of account to his clients to keep them blissfully in the dark.
He also lied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority when they became suspicious. For his trouble they struck his name off the register when he finally came clean. This means he may no longer practice in his profession.
How the SLA Became Aware of the Dubious Activity
Solicitors have to provide the SLA with their accountants’ annual reports as part of its due diligence controls. The truth came to light when an auditor spotted a £40,000 transfer from a client account to an internal office account flagged as a ‘loan’.
The probate solicitor put the money back in the client’s account 14 months later after adding interest. This was contrary to their professional duty to keep client’s funds separate from their own. However this was not all the Solicitors Regulation Authority discovered when it dug deeper.
The Full Extent of the Solicitor’s Dishonesty
The SLA audit revealed eight ‘improper transfers’ over the eight years. These involved a total £300,000. Of this amount the solicitor only returned £59,000 to where it belonged.
He covered the shortfall with ‘interim bills’. However the clients never saw these. This was just as well because he never provided the mentioned services. When cornered he admitted he was “profoundly sorry” and accepted full responsibility for his actions.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Interpretation
The SLA’s closeout report found the erring solicitor was “under immense personal and financial pressure for a number of years as the result of a distressing divorce and business difficulties,”
“He only ever intended to shore up his firm’s office account temporarily by transferring money from the client account, but events overtook him and he was never able to make the correcting transfers…
“He was not motivated by personal gain but rather by a desire to keep the firm in business so that he could provide a service (and, later, in the hope that he could put right what he had done wrong).”
We might have taken a harder line although perhaps ‘there but for the grace of God go you and me’. The dishonest solicitor certainly paid for his mistakes when he went bankrupt and lost everything including his livelihood and reputation. On the positive side he still hopes to repay the money he owes to the beneficiaries.
A Few Words of Advice on How to Avoid This
The SRA upgraded the rules for solicitors and their reporting accountants in 2011. These require them to adopt an ‘outcomes-based approach’. The core values of this are protecting client money and assets, and acting with integrity at all times.
A client is entitled to request regular statements as any other business ought to provide. If a solicitor refuses to do so we recommend taking up the matter with the Solicitors Regulation Authority immediately.