‘Inexperienced’ solicitor struggling with 170 cases struck off for dishonesty

He paid client compensation out of his own pocket

papers

Paul Andrew Smith, working as a personal injury lawyer for a regional firm in Yorkshire, has admitted fabricating documents and failing to file claims before the expiry of limitation periods, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard in a case published recently.

In two instances, Smith had even gone so far as to pay his client what he claimed was a “settlement” sum out of his own pocket. One amount was for £2,250 and the other for approximately £2,500.

Smith, 39, admitted the allegations against him including charges of dishonesty. The SDT found that as he had done so, despite the mitigating factors, the only sanction available was a striking off.

The tribunal said:

A key consideration was that solicitors ‘must be trusted to the ends of the earth’ and the respondent’s conduct had undermined the trust clients had placed in him and in the profession.

It also concluded that Smith had:

[A]cted very naïvely and his inexperience had been his downfall. He had got himself into difficulties early on in his career and instead of seeking assistance from senior colleagues he had attempted to deal with the problems on his own using his own money.

Smith had started his career in law firm Williamsons’ property department but as a result of the recession at the time the only role open to him on qualification was as a paralegal in the personal injury department. He had only done six months’ worth of personal injury work as a trainee. Despite this, he was given a caseload of around 70 to 80 cases. He was eventually taken on as a solicitor in December 2011 and his caseload increased to 170 files.

Problems started in 2014 when a close relative became ill and was admitted to hospital; Smith had to visit the relative daily.

In both cases where Smith eventually paid the client out of his own pocket, the struggling solicitor faced a textbook dilemma familiar to many litigators: he could not identify the defendant on a potential personal injury claim for a certain Mr K in one case and Mrs DO in another. In the case of Mrs DO, Smith had even travelled to the relevant area to try and resolve the issue of identity. He issued proceedings within the limitation period but it was rejected by the court and thus the limitation date expired. In the case of Mr K, he didn’t even manage to issue proceedings before the limitation deadline.

Smith argued that he did not tell the firm what was happening as he felt his position was “precarious” and thought he would “lose his job”.

He also said that — as he was inexperienced in personal injury claims — he did not have the confidence to tell clients that their cases were unlikely to be successful.

In mitigation, the tribunal noted that Smith “apologised profusely to everyone who had been affected by his conduct”.

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30 Comments

Charlottian

Of course, his actions weren’t advisable; yet no mention of the firm piling on too much work… 170 files.

Shocking conduct by the firm. And – from my own experience – this is quite common in the insurance lit industry. Horrible work.

(105)(0)
Anonymous

This is a very sad case – and one I can see happening again and again. In fact, wasn’t there are very similar case with a female property lawyer who was left completely unsupervised and who went a bit rogue trying to keep up? I think it was about 6 months ago. If anyone can provide the LC link, I’d be v grateful.

(23)(0)
Anon.

Why was the firm not penalised?

Shocking management structure to allow this to happen. Let’s hope the firm sees some sort of rebellion off clients…

(37)(0)
Anonymous

I don’t know all the facts here, but I think that the firm should be penalised for failing to pick up on this. In the circumstances a 12 month suspension was probably more appropriate.

(24)(0)
Anonymous

PI firms. Don’t you just luv ’em? Sols, always the sols.

I wish the legal ‘twitterati’ would spend time condemning the bad things that happen in the profession rather than just attacking Tory Justice Secretaries or the Daily Mail’s latest lawyer bashing piece.

(10)(12)
Anonymous

Dear all,

What he did was a serious mess. I have pasted the key finding from the SRA hearing in “”below. A solicitor called Brewer testified that Smith was a credit to the profession (over a year later), had under scored how depressed he was and that he would make an excellent property lawyer if the SRA would permit him to supervise Smith.

The SRA decided that there was dishonesty and that exceptional circumstances to parry a strike off were not triggered. It bore in mind that solicitors must be trusted to the ends of the earth.

What I take from this is that the SRA have an easy job instructing their in house solicitor, Wilcox, to rack up £4800 costs on an early admission of guilt case with a written confession, rather than policing the concerns voiced on this thread that insurance claims firms are floggers.

For a twist Smith offered to pay £150 per month for the costs. The Tribunal knocked £4800 down to £3800 and told him to pay in full.

Do not bank on any mercy comrades, the best you will get is some agonizing by the panel before they decide that the justice of mercy is not applicable.

They could have found that Smith paying the clients himself, writing a full admission to his firm and apologizing to everyone was exceptional circumstances in my view and marked the case for review after a few years suspension. Brewer seems to have thought him exceptional, Wilcox not. Smith was unrepresented, which I think peeps will agree was a pity. I suppose it is clear that Smith will still earn a living in property, even if he will never get the title back.

“The Respondent had deliberately created false documents on a number of files, misled
clients and a third party and failed to issue proceedings on a number of files but did
not inform clients of this. The Tribunal was satisfied that such conduct would be
regarded as dishonest by the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people.
33.8 The Respondent’s conduct had concealed the true position on a number of files and
the fact that he had not done the work that was required, or which he claimed to have
done.”

(20)(1)
PI solicitor

Early on, O about 20 years ago, I attended an I/V at a PI firm. They had about 170 cases per solicitor. As my case load was only 3 , they said I had insufficient experience. Before I left I asked the average value of their cases. They said about £750. As I was walking towards the door, they asked me the average value of mine. I said £7 million and closed the door behind me for ever more.

(35)(6)
Anonymous

170 cases seems quite lenient, based on some of the roles I have seen advertised 220 – 300 cases seems quite normal. At least we won’t have to worry about the PI factories when the small claims threshold is reduced.

(5)(1)
Asian PI solicitor

Guess I must have run out of Asian privilege Trumpenschwienehund.

(3)(1)
Scouser of Counsel

So glad I got out of PI when I left my first Chambers.

It’s the legal equivalent of being a battery hen, whether you’re solicitor, counsel or paralegal.

(21)(0)
Scouser of Counsel

Crime. Mainly Crown Court.

Far preferable on all counts.

(4)(0)
Quality Asian PI solicitor

Gather round boys and girls and listen to the minatory legend- the more cases you have, the more crap you are. Quality not quantity.

(4)(1)
Quality Asian PI solicitor who got out of PI for red meat eating litigation worth billions

Scouser of Counsel is right

(3)(0)
Chris Grayling's Bald Head

Seems more like the firm’s falling than his.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

The sanction here is equivalent to putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg – addresses only the symptoms and not the root cause, i.e. Utterly pointless.

(9)(0)
True-Man LJ

I certainly hope the regulatory body is looking at the conduct of the firm.

Else this chap is just cannon fodder and the reputation of the profession will continue to degrade.

(8)(0)

Comments are closed.