He paid client compensation out of his own pocket
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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