He claimed he was just trying to be supportive
A family lawyer who sent a series of “inappropriate” messages to a vulnerable client — including one calling her “a right glamour puss” — has been slapped with a £5,000 fine.
Andrew Mark Lee, a former senior associate at Liverpool’s Gregory Abrams Davidson, exchanged over 50 flirtatious WhatsApps and texts with the client in October 2013. Referred to only as Ms SS in the judgment, the victim of domestic violence had instructed Lee in relation to a family matter involving her ex-partner and son.
According to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) report, the “inappropriate messages” were sent over a six day period. In one message, Lee — who was admitted to the roll in 1992 — wrote:
Don’t you dare do yourself down. You can be a right glamour puss when you want to be! xx
I am full of admiration for you. Just wanted you to know that you’re wonderful xx.
In a further message Lee told Ms SS:
It may or may not be inappropriate for me as your lawyer to say it, but you’re very far from ugly (and of course you’re not fat too, but that’s subjective) xx.
The experienced solicitor — who was dismissed from Gregory Abrams Davidson for gross misconduct in October 2013 after the complaint was made — argued that the texts were “innocent” and simply “part and parcel of supporting a client”.
He suggested the messages were his way of “commenting positively” in order to counteract negative statements made by ex-partners. Continuing to defend the “informal tone” of the messages, he claimed that this was simply his “approach” with clients.
The tribunal report noted that Ms SS felt “physically sick and uncomfortable” when she received a message from Lee. In evidence Ms SS said she had only engaged with Lee on an informal level to “get him off her back” and that she was concerned that if she had made a complaint, it would impact negatively on her case.
Concluding, the tribunal found the messages between Lee and Ms SS had crossed the line from “being supportive and friendly to flirtatious”. With Lee accepting that “some of the messages had been inappropriate”, the tribunal did acknowledge that Ms SS had not made any objection to the tone or frequency of the texts received. Continuing, the tribunal said:
Ms SS was a vulnerable client at the time, whose case involved delicate and upsetting material. The Respondent (Lee) was an experienced solicitor, to whom Ms SS looked for legal advice and representation. Instead of containing information and advice about the case, the messages read as flirtatious. The Respondent had used his position to get apparently affectionate responses from Ms SS. The Respondent could and should have recognised that it was for him to stop the inappropriate exchanges, not for Ms SS to speak up and complain.
Three further charges relating to “inappropriate physical contact”, “inappropriate comments” and accessing Ms SS’s “Facebook profile account without consent” were not upheld.
Fining Lee £5,000, the tribunal accepted that the text messages marked a week-long blip “in an otherwise unblemished 21 year career”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) was also given a slap on the wrist for its handling of the case. Initially the body sought to recover costs in excess of £47,000, but the tribunal reduced this to just £3,500. Finding that the prosecution had been “poorly brought” the tribunal said that witness statements provided by the SRA “lacked any narrative coherence or detail.”