Junior is hit with an indefinite suspension — and a gets £10,000 costs order into the bargain
From the wind swept lakes of Cumbria comes a sad tale of a solicitor who was overwhelmed by work and panicked.
The lesson of this story is that lawyers shouldn’t pretend to know things about orthopaedic surgery (unless, of course, they were orthopaedic surgeons in a previous career) — because an indefinite suspension from the disciplinary tribunal is the likely result.
Claire Tunstall was a two-year post-qualification solicitor at the Keswick office of general practice Scott Duff & Co (other outposts in Carlisle and Penrith). She had trained at the firm, but not long after qualification, according to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal finding, Tunstall became swamped with work and began to panic.
The upshot was a nightmare of snowballing of cock-ups that the tribunal described as “quite extraordinary”.
Tunstall went on to fabricate a range of documents, including expert witness statements from an orthopaedic surgeon and advice from counsel.
The hapless young solicitor also doled out money from the firm’s office account to a client who was angrily demanding an interim payment in relation to a clinical negligence claim.
The salutary story illustrates the point that you don’t have to be pulling all-nighters in a City glass tower working on global deals to feel the pressure.
The tribunal was sympathetic to a degree. In the finding it stated that it “was persuaded by the respondent’s evidence, which it found to be highly credible, that she had been struggling to cope to the extent that she contemplated having an accident so that she wouldn’t have to go to work anymore”.
The finding continued:
Whilst no medical report was provided, the tribunal entirely accepted the respondent’s evidence on her state of mind at that time and accepted that at the material time the respondent had acted in blind panic under immense pressure, with no thought of the consequences of her actions.
The tribunal also criticised the firm for at times failing to provide Tunstall with adequate supervision.
But that empathy for the young solicitor’s predicament didn’t save her from being hit with an indefinite suspension and a costs order for £10,000.