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The perils of paralegals — regulator bans Irwin Mitchell employee for litany of errors

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Sheffield-based paralegal at national firm misled clients over damages and settlements

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In a legal profession making increasing use of paralegals, a salutatory tale comes from the Sheffield office of national law firm Irwin Mitchell.

The solicitors’ regulator has banned a paralegal at the high-profile consumer and commercial practice from law firm employment without prior approval after he misled clients into thinking they would receive more damages than they were entitled to.

Simranjit Singh — who worked at the firm’s Sheffield branch — acted in such a way, found an adjudicator for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, “that is was undesirable for him to be involved in legal practice without prior permission”.

The adjudicator found Singh had committed a litany of errors, including fabricating two emails and a fax, informing clients that they would receive a higher award of compensation than agreed, providing incorrect information to clients about settlement of their cases, failing to inform clients and a defendant about offers to settle claims and failing to notify the court a hearing was not needed resulting in a wasted costs order.

The SRA has held the whip hand over paralegals ever since 2009, when a regime of firm-based regulation was implemented. That gave the regulator responsibility over law firms employees in addition to solicitors themselves.

The view at the time was that employees, while not conducting reserved legal activities, often had access to the same documents and accounts.

An Irwin Mitchell statement said:

“We strongly condemn any activity that contravenes the SRA’s regulations and view client care as our number one priority.”

The firm said that as soon as it was aware of Singh’s actions,

“we notified the SRA and took appropriate disciplinary action. Mr Singh is no longer an employee of the firm and has not been an employee for a period of almost two years. We can confirm that none of our clients have suffered any financial loss as a result of Mr Singh’s actions.”

Irwin Mitchell declined to disclose the number of paralegals the firm employs, or to explain how it defines paralegal activities at the practice.