Tribunal strikes off NQ solicitor for dishonesty, then fines his firm for lack of supervision

Same week young lawyer struggling under weight of 170 cases thrown out of profession

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Another newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for dishonesty, but this time his firm was also subject to proceedings.

The tribunal ruled that “dishonesty had been alleged and proved” in the matter of Joseph Paul Gill, a 30-year-old solicitor at Bolton-based firm Cain & Cochran. According to the SDT report, the criminal firm had trained Gill and then taken him on as an associate responsible for setting up an employment department.

Ten allegations were made against Gill by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which was represented by Littleton Chambers’ Adam Solomon at the hearing.

Among these, Gill — represented by Hugo Lodge of 7 Bedford Row — was accused of telling his employer he had emailed a client care letter out when he hadn’t and, to cover up his omission, fabricated a letter and covering email. Other allegations include failing to attend a judicial mediation on behalf of his client without good reason and failing to provide the required advice to his client.

Eight out of ten of the allegations were proved, with the SDT noting:

[Gill’s] motivation for his misconduct did not appear to be financial. It appeared that he wanted to progress and enhance his role and did not want to be criticised. He had been completely incompetent and had become like a ‘rabbit caught in headlights’. Dishonesty had been alleged and proved. The misconduct had been deliberate and repeated and had continued over a period of time.

Interestingly, Cain & Cochran was also named as a party to proceedings. Represented by Doughty Street counsel Tom Stevens and accused of failing to operate an adequate system of supervision for Gill, the SDT found that:

[T]he lack of supervision lasted from when [Gill] commenced at the firm until he left. The supervision that did occur was reactive and not appropriate for a junior solicitor.

It did, however, note Cain & Cochran had now implemented a “far more robust” system of supervision. The firm was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.

Readers may assume that with a finding of misconduct made against Cain & Cochran, the tribunal would go easy on Gill. However, while it did take his lack of supervision into account when debating the solicitor’s punishment, it found:

He had panicked and found himself out of his depth, but he had not sought help from his supervisor and instead he had put on a veneer that everything was alright and had represented to a director that a client care letter had been sent when it had not been.

Gill was duly struck off the roll.

This news comes just one day after Legal Cheek reported a junior associate struggling with 170 cases had come before the SDT.

Personal injury solicitor Paul Andrew Smith was found to have fabricated documents and paid client compensation out of his own pocket.

Though his law firm, Williamsons, was not party to proceedings, a strong sense of sympathy for Smith’s situation came through in our comments section. One commenter said this was “shocking conduct by the firm”, another argued it “seems more like the firm’s failing than his”, while one asked why Williamsons was not penalised.

Despite the mitigating factors in Smith’s case, the SDT said the only sanction available to it was a striking off.

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15 Comments

Anonymous

There is a problem here about young lawyers operating in a very challenging job market feeling able to admit mistakes for fear of internal sanction.

(38)(1)
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Anonymous

I agree ! I worked for a firm that gave me 200 plus cases and my supervisor was a slave driver and verbally abusive, I can see why trainees are scared to admit when things haven’t been done in some firms.

(10)(1)
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Anonymous

I think the key difference between this case and the one reported yesterday was that there was some level of supervision available to this fellow, but he chose to not utilise it. What alarms me most of all out of these hearings is the seemingly disproportionate costs awards that are made, how does it follow that the firm who committed the minor offence here gets lumbered with a £20K costs order, whilst the individual responsible doesn’t have to pay any costs. In any event considering that the SRA primarily uses it’s in-house solicitors I find the sum of £20K to be disproportionate.

(16)(4)
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Anonymous

The comment by anon 12.00 pm 6 Jan is rubbish, if you read the SDT judgment. The supervisor was the solicitor who set up the firm. He had no employment experience. The accuracy of the supervision data he submitted was challenged. He was criticized for wasting the SDT’s time with voluminous documentation. Paralegals were employed by the firm as the struck off solicitor expanded his department and became flooded with work, but they needed training, so, it would appear, that their help was not meaningful – and their recruitment was likely profit motivated – rather than help motivated – to the trained eye – and then they left. So said the struck off solicitor, in summary, and these facts were not challenged.

The costs of the SDT hearing were £30,700, reduced to £30,000 because it did not go for the full 3 days. The firm’s senior partner would not make any meaningful admissions about his own conduct until he was cross examined on the second day. He was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs because if he had behaved better the whole course of the case would have been different.

The struck off solicitor had to pay £10,000.

The alternative was that the profession should pick up the costs.

The firm was fined £7,500 as well.

It would not surprise me if it can benefit from the liberal generosity of the assigned risk pool to get its act together before it re approaches the insurance market, too. So the firm has done very well out of the profession, anon 12.00.

Is it lucky that no one is so bothered that only admitting facts under cross examination, rather than as of right, seems to be compatible with the notion that a solicitor must be trusted to the ends of the earth and being honest as a reasonable member of the public would expect ? I wonder if the answer is “I would keep your head down for a while now”

(1)(2)
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Anonymous

I wonder if in Smith’s case and in Gill’s case the recently qualified solicitors are not aware of the Firm’s insurance regime and the fact that there is a whole documentary process for dealing with someone like Aon insurance about what start off as negligent errors.

In both cases I would not be surprised if it assists the firms that their solicitors were dishonest – it would possibly take some scrutiny away from the supervision question marks and may mean that the premium hike or even ability to get insurance next year is diluted.

If the solicitors knew that they just needed to tell the relevant partner that they had messed up and that we may need to notify our insurers then that would have solved the issue. Granted, they could each have been sacked, but then again, they may not have been. Professional negligence is a way of earning a living for many solicitors, but it does not necessarily follow that all the negligent solicitors there ever have been are on the dole.

It is a thought.

I cannot help thinking that if Gill and Smith knew that, they would have had the sense to fall on their swords before they had been dishonest. You are entitled to a safe system of work, if both had been put out of their depth either by new area of law in Gill’s case, or volume of work in Smith’s, then you should not be afraid to stand up for yourself and say you goofed.

You could potentially argue unfair dismissal if you were sacked having goofed in an unsafe system, couldn’t you ?

What is a shame here is that it really is an easy job to be a Regulator if you just make your living from people like Smith and Gill trying to save their careers with remorse or dishonesty at fees which are unpalatable given the simplicity of the underlying facts.

Does anyone feel like picking up some of those points please ?

(8)(1)
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Pantman

I can’t really pick up your points directly, but I suspect that the truth behind each case is somewhat more complex. It seems unlikely that the actual misconduct amounts to just the few instances cited – more likely there are many, many more instances (at least of poor judgement) that shaped the solicitors’ conduct.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive!

Very minor issues, covered-up in one way or another, help build towards more serious problems.

(4)(1)
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Anonymous

As with the case reported yesterday, it must have been obvious to the junior solicitors, if they had thought about their actions, that the truth would come out that proceedings had not been commenced and that letters and emails had been fabricated. they must have realized that there would be a follow-up when their deceptions would be laid bare.

In both instances, it looks as though their firms reported them to the SDT. Tragic for these newly-qualifieds and clear evidence of poor and inadequate supervision which has rightly resulted in a penalty against Cane & Cochran. The SDT’s costs do seem extraordinary in what appears to be a simple case. Presumably there is a provision for the recipient to ask for a breakdown and to challenge or ask for the costs to be considered by the equivalent of a taxing Master if they appear excessive?

As to the newly-qualifieds, I firmly believe that both trainees and newly-qualified solicitors should be taken through an induction process which deals with what to do when they are overloaded, what they should do if they make a mistake or miss a deadline and what the consequences will be. Very few oversights or mistakes will merit dismissal at first instance: we are all human, we all make mistakes and particularly if we are overloaded and working under unusual pressure. There needs to be a clear understanding that when mistakes are made, it is essential to tell your supervisor and that the consequences of “covering-up” and fabricating will be dismissal and likely striking-off by the SDT. This should also be covered under “professional ethics” in the LPC.

(7)(0)
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Anonymous

Hmm, the trouble with that is that you would put a sizeable number of Panel members, junior barristers and SRA lawyers out of a job ! I , for one, agree. They could be given a commission to stop de forestation and poaching in Burma instead 🙂

(0)(0)
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Pantman

I think the issue is, as alluded to above, the junior solicitors have, at first, made minor mistakes. They have probably covered these up. They have later made more serious mistakes – which, because the previous errors were hidden, they also covered up.

Thus the scale of errors and consequences ratchets up… until someone eventually takes a (serious) fall.

(1)(0)
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Chris Grayling's Bald Head

Working for the SRA sounds like the piss-easiest job around. Do nothing all day, then discipline other people for actually doing something because they didn’t do that thing 100% correctly. Where do I sign up?

(11)(0)
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Anonymous

We all make mistakes at some point in our careers. Those who say otherwise either do not work or are liars. The problem is that junior lawyers perceive any error they make to be a massive problem, when in fact it can usually be sorted out or the consequences minimised. Panic (fear for loss of job) sets in and that leads to the cover up which of course has far more serious consequences.
I agree that there must be a culture to allow lawyers (of all levels) to openly admit mistakes to prevent this sort of stuff from happening. That’s why we pay for PI insurance, right?

(4)(0)
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