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‘Terribly let down’: Whistleblowing trainee solicitor hits back at strike off decision

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Emily Scott was struck off after reporting fraud

📸 De Vita Platt Solicitors (credit: Google)

A young solicitor who was struck off after blowing the whistle on misconduct at her former firm has said she felt “terribly let down” by the regulator.

As reported by Legal Cheek, Emily Scott was removed from the roll last week despite a disciplinary tribunal accepting she’d been “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” by a senior lawyer at the firm. Although expressing “considerable sympathy” for the now 31-year-old, the tribunal said the “horrendous” working environment did not excuse her dishonesty in matters concerning client funds.

Speaking in the wake of the decision, Scott has criticised both the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for failing to adequately protect her. Scott, who left Lincolnshire outfit De Vita Platt Solicitors in November 2014, told the Sunday Telegraph:

“They encourage you to give them information then hang you out to dry. This could potentially prevent others coming forward in the legal world.”

The two solicitors who ran the firm, Jonathan De Vita and Christopher Platt, were also struck off for falsifying bills, misappropriating client funds and misleading the regulators.

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Reflecting on her decision not to blow the whistle sooner, something she was criticised for by the tribunal at the time, Scott continued:

“Whenever I questioned what they were asking me to do Mr Platt would say I could be replaced easily and there were hundreds of law graduates desperate for training contracts… I was trying to leave, but was told by recruitment companies that not completing my training at De Vita Platt could be frowned upon by other employers. I was between a rock and a hard place.”

According to the judgment, Scott waited almost two years to report the misconduct, two months after she had completed her training contract and had left the firm. She admitted falsifying bills, but told the tribunal she had been “under the instruction of Mr Platt”.

Arguing that people should not be punished for bringing wrongdoing to the attention of the regulator, Scott added:

“I’m not a dishonest person. I acted naively and have now lost a career that I had pursued since the age of 18. The governing body and tribunal has punished me for doing the right thing.”

An SRA spokesperson declined to comment on Scott’s case specifically, but said:

“Solicitors must act with integrity, and that includes reporting serious misconduct. Our whistleblowers’ charter sets out that if someone is involved in wrongdoing, reporting to us can act as mitigation, particularly if done promptly.

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71 Comments

Annon

I can see why she was so stuck. I think striking her off is harsh. She did the right thing and now she is being punished. It would 100% deter me from coming forward.

(158)(5)

Anon

Agree entirely. Very difficult time for trainees with competition and it can be very difficult to come forward against people you are meant to be learning from.

Striking off is far too harsh a punishment in these circumstances.

It would certainly put me off from coming forward at all.

(85)(3)

Anonymous

This ^

(3)(2)

Anonymous

I think this is the intention. They don’t want to encourage whistleblowing.
She was coercively controlled. Abuse of power. Typical behaviour of abusers and the people judging the victim side with the perpetrators, punish the victim.
Classic. Needs to be called out!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Poor guy. Does not deserve this at all.

(3)(34)

Anonymous

Did you read the article or are you sorry for the males only?

(29)(10)

Happily Married

Some people don’t know their left from their right. Some people get their nouns and pronouns confused when talking about gender. Then there is my wife, who does not know left from right, right from left, he from she, she from he, him from her and her from him. I have never heard my wife use the words ‘guys’ or ‘gals’ and I would not want to teach her as she would be sure to get it wrong. The one thing I do know is that despite not knowing right from left my wife does know right from and wrong and that is why I married her.

(5)(6)

Just my humble opinion but...

It’s a difficult one for everyone involved. From the SRAs perspective you can’t be seen to be allowing someone to be complicit in fraud / dishonesty EVEN when there is an element of bullying / etc. involved. I have the utmost sympathy for Ms Scott but I think the wider message here is to blow the whistle before getting involved in what is a crime of dishonesty. I concede that this may have the effect of reducing whistle-blowing for those who may ultimately face the same fate as Ms Scott, but in a profession that puts so much emphasis on acting honestly and with integrity I don’t really see how the SRA could have genuinely dealt with it any other way without opening up several cans of worms.

(24)(26)

FmrCityLawFirmWorker

Dear SRA responder,
You appear to be highly concerned with the SRA being seen to condone illegal / dishonest behaviour by NOT sticking to the letter of the law in this woman’s case.

Was there no other appropriate sanction short of striking off? The real perpetrators are dealt with and the great British public are protected. Is this result part of some sort of return-on-investment decision to prosecute by the SRA?

However, failing to protect whistleblowers could arguably have a higher public impact.
I am not sure of the law in this area but I hope Ms Scott is seeking advice and contemplating an action against the SRA if one is possible. I find it difficult to believe that there is anyone in their right mind who would consider co-operating with the SRA now to expose wrongdoing.

In any case, I know the SRA is extremely busy using sledgehammers to crack nuts like Ms Scott while high profile, better connected lawyers go unpunished – just ask JK Rowling’s alter ego…..

(3)(6)

Anonymous

Emphasis on honesty- lol.
She was abused and the judgement/responsibility should always be with the perpetrator. Abuse of power.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

So if she had instructed earlier and the firm went into special measures she would not have been able to complete her contract and the recruiters would actually have frowned on recommending her.

Recruiters have to come clean too

(21)(3)

Anonymous

It’s really the recruiters’ clients isn’t it?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

LC, she wasn’t “A young trainee solicitor who was struck off…” – – that seems to be really the point of the SDT’s quite harsh decision. Yet again you’ve made a basic error.

The fact is, she was a qualified solicitor who was struck off. The reason for her being qualified was precisely because she waited for more than two years after becoming aware of the misconduct before blowing the whistle, i.e. until after she was qualified.

I’m not defending the SDT’s decision, which I agree is harsh and is highly likely to have a chilling effect on encouraging practitioners to report wrongdoing. But it’s very important to understand the serious aggravating feature, which was the respondent’s failure to report the wrongdoing promptly.

(18)(62)

Anonymous

Simply put, one could argue she got what she wanted from it (i.e, qualification) before she acted upon it.

(13)(56)

Anonymous

Wait a fucking minute are you suggesting that part way through her training contract she would have reported it?

Have you read the rest of the article concerning the recruiters point of view and how it would have been frowned upon if she did part of her training elsewhere?

It’s the same recruiters that want LPC students to work as paralegals doing trainee level work.

You are such a numpty. SRA needs to comment on recruiters views and give out strong warnings, very likely she listened to the recruiter instead of the SRA.

(63)(5)

Anonymous

I would add that there may be a tort of negligence on the part of the recruiter, they held themselves out in such a manner thereby preventing her from doing anything really.

(64)(6)

Anonymous

Ridiculous, what do recruiters have to do with anything? You can’t just hand over your professional judgment to a recruiter. To be clear, yes she should have reported even if this meant losing her job and even if random recruiters were saying she wouldn’t get another.

(8)(15)

Anonymous

Care to say anything about Recruiters causing fresh law graduates to do a LPC to work as a paralegal doing trainee level work?

Clifford Chance, Reed Smith, Lonklaters S&M make them do trainee level work!

Anonymous

What has that got to do with defrauding clients or the case in this article??

Anonymous

And upvoting your own comment 53(!) times isn’t convincing anyone by the way, you weirdo.

(4)(54)

Anonymous

You could argue that she was a solicitor in training/trainee solicitor when she did not report that she was being abused . It should be seen as mitigating circumstance and she should have been given a warning/ counselling rather than being struck off. No good deed goes unpunished, obviously.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Hmm…

Let’s go over this again:

Trainee in firm is unhappy with the way things are run.

Reports to regulator when finished traineeship.

Gets shafted by SRA.

Next time it will be:

Trainee in firm is unhappy with the way things are run.

Knows will be struck off if reports it to the regulator.

Keeps schtum.

Moves firm. Keeps career.

Wrongdoing continues at the firm.

👏 👏 👏 well done SRA!

(114)(6)

Anonymous

She wouldn’t have been struck off if she had actually reported it in a timely manner. Point is she didn’t come forward til the sra was already sniffing around and admitted this was bc she didn’t want to jeopardise her career.

(6)(6)

Anonymous

She wouldn’t have been struck off but she would have been unemployed?. If this was 18 months into her training contract (precise details I do not know), one would be hard pressed to report it and potentially lose out on qualifying.

(9)(3)

It’s About Ethics

But that is the ethical obligation one has when one becomes a solicitor/barrister. At least on the BSB side, we are meant to promote “fearlessly” our clients interests even at the expense of our own. This woman is not to be pitied: she was complicit in crimes and ethical violations, which she only reported after she gained benefit. Her actions reduce the trust and confidence the public has/had in the profession. Hiding behind the argument that she would have found it hard to qualify elsewhere is a pathetic excuse for violating her ethical obligations. Don’t want to be bound by professional ethics? Do another job.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Ethics, right? How about the solicitors/barristers who let their clients down, everyday? Bullying judges? Ethics-BS- hypocrisy!

Antonamous

I disagree!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

SRA should just dismiss itself

(26)(2)

Lord Harley of Counsel

The SRA are spiteful greedy people.

So spiteful that they fixed my hearing for me birthday.

(25)(1)

sue r pipe

cant live without mentioning him can you? pathetic

(1)(11)

Incontinent Alan

Good to see that you have recovered Alan.

How’s the consultant’s report coming on?

(4)(0)

A non-knee mouse

The SRA are going to deter people reporting stuff now. Absolute dips*its.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

She created fraudulent documents. Not surprising she was struck off.

(10)(11)

Anonymous

Surely there’s exceptional circumstances involved, and is there anything to say about whether she could’ve reported mid way trough her training contract and the SRA would’ve helped her complete it elsewhere?

SRA NEED TO SUPPORT TRAINEES IN THEIR TRAINING CONTRACTS BY BASTARD FIRMS.

(53)(3)

Alexander

The SRA are a corrupt organisation backed and run with the SDT where three jokers in the form of three adult men sit and take a decision that has already been pre approved by the SRA. The law Society is perfectly aware that money changes hands and all the mess that goes on inside the SDT and the SRA.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

Absolutely right. Whistleblowers need to be seriously protected!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Has anyone commenting actually looked at the judgment? Scott admitted she fabricated letters between the firm and other parties, backdated documents, made up entire client files including time records for work that had never been done. Even in the context of a toxic work environment, this is blatantly dishonest behaviour that is not excused by the fact that she really wanted to qualify as a solicitor. She was participating in fraud on a huge scale and was well aware of what she was doing. Strike off was the right decision. I wouldn’t want her anywhere near my client file! http://www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk/sites/default/files-sdt/11696.2017.De%20Vita.Platt_.Scott_.pdf

(21)(40)

Anonymous

17.1 The Third Respondent, in her email to the SRA of 25 January 2015 described her actions and those of the First and Second Respondents and stated “I knew such practices were wrong and should have been reported immediately”. The Third Respondent continued, “I did not feel that I could jeopardise my training and employment” and “I am aware I should have reported the above sooner” but “I was deeply concerned about the repercussions on my myself and my employment if I did report this in the middle of my training contract”.

Not good enough imo. Many decisions to report will involve personal cost. You accept that there is an ethical burden on you to put client first when you become a member of the legal profession.

(14)(38)

Anonymous

I do feel that there was an element of bullying involved and you folks are taking some of the phrases out of context which is completely fine, cause you’re that type of lawyer, not aware of the rest of the content. How she was advised by recruiters NOT TO FCUKING LEAVE!!!! AND RECRUITERS HAVE NO QUALIFICATIONS THEMSELVES.

What was she meant to do? The fact that she considered leaving and asking recruiters tells you everything, she was not a willing participant to dishonesty, there was professional pressure on her, in part due to TC’s being gold dust

(23)(6)

Anonymous

Really? Is this actually
Emily Scott? I presume it is not an actual member of the profession… in case you’re not aware, your duty is to your client, not to your boss and certainly not to any recruiter. If your own interest and your duty to your client conflicts, you have to choose your client’s interest. This is not difficult stuff and is quite literally what you sign up to when you become a lawyer. As to this case, the fact that she was considering leaving shows she was aware she was acting dishonestly (not that she really could have missed this fact given the firm’s conduct) but chose to continue to do so because she couldn’t find a better job offer. Not good enough. You don’t get to defraud clients just because it’s not a good time in your career not to do so.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Yes but recruiters were telling her NOT TO SWITCH

SURELY RECRUITERS HAD MORE RECRUITING EXPERIENCE but were blind to the actual facts, we still don’t know whether she discussed this with them. Otherwise she would have had much better advice from the recruiter albeit quasi legal advice which the SRA NOW HAS TO DO BY WORKING WITH RECRUITERS

Anonymous

Writing in all caps does not make you more convincing… and once again, no you can’t substitute your own professional and ethical judgment for that of a recruiter!! They are not giving legal advice, they are not holding themselves out as giving legal advice (or if they are, they shouldn’t be!) The most they can do is tell you how good your career prospects are, which has nothing to do with whether or not it’s ethical to falsify client billling. You also can’t rely on another lawyer having told you it was ok to excuse unethical conduct. You have your own duty to the client and you have to use your own judgment. And you have to behave ethically even if it is bad for you personally. Seriously, whether you are a law student, trainee or qualified lawyer, please familiarise yourself with the ethical obligations that go with being a solicitor. You seem to have deeply misunderstood what is expected.

Anonymous

I think this is what might be termed “a lack of insight”. Or maybe “A LACK OF FCUKING INSIGHT”.

Anonymous

Whatever. If you defraud your clients you’ll get struck off. Good luck telling the sra it’s really some legal recruiter’s fault that you billed for work you didn’t do.

Anonymous

Stop conflating this, don’t combine the client and the recruiter. It’s very stupid for you to say that ‘I blame the recruiter for overcharging the client’ No no no

This is separate the recruiter was telling her not to leave. As she couldn’t leave she was pressured into carrying out this behaviour by her superiors who had done this for may years.

Why did she then get the same punishment as the rest of them of being stricken off? Should it have been less harsh? The SRA don’t even take mental health into account and there is absolutely no exception whatsoever (Sovani James case)

Anonymous

The cross examination of the solicitor would go:

Q: so if the recruiter told you to go back to work and stab someone, would you?

A: no, of course not.

Q: and if a recruiter told you to walk into De Beers and steal a diamon ring, would you?

A: no, of course not.

Q: why?

A: because it’s wrong.

Q: ok, so if a recruiter told you to go back to work and forge documents knowing they would be used to defraud clients, would you do it?

A: (more hesitant) no.

Q: why not?

A: because it’s wrong.

Q: no recruiter ever told you to forge documents, did they?

A: no.

Read the judgment: the solicitor did not give evidence. So she was not cross examined. Facts. Facts. Facts.

Anonymous

Wait a minute.

The comment up top is suggesting that recruiters told her to forge documents wtf. This scenario never happened and shame on that person.

She wanted to leave but the recruiter said it’s frowned upon.

Why are people saying recruiters told her to forge documents? They were telling her not to leave the training contract due to the ‘frowning’ what an ass (assuming and making an ass out of you and me)

Anonymous

Ok well exactly, that just brings it back to the point. Whatever the recruiter said is *totally* irrelevant and provides no defence on any conceivable view.

Anonymous

You are the one who brought up recruiters!! As if a recruiter advising Scott that she would not get another tc if she quit halfway through meant that it was perfectly fine for her to continue to carry out fraud in the tc she had. Clearly there is nothing a recruiter could have said to her that would have justified her decisions!

Anonymous

“Clearly there is nothing a recruiter could have said to her that would have justified her decisions!”

WTF it’s the recruiters omission. The fact that they said that you shouldn’t leave is what led her to carry on doing it (she had no choice). She relied on their specific view and that is what they held themselves out as, therefore there is a tort of negligence!

Would a reasonable recruiter act this way?

Are you a lawyer with comprehension issues?

Anonymous

Good lord. Please, please familiarise yourself with the code of conduct, and try to get your head around the fact that the duties contained in it do not magically stop applying just because someone tells you you won’t get another job.

Anonymous

You’re just excusing the the Law firm partners, the SRA and the Recruiters aren’t you?

Just say you’re against Emily. I dare you.

FmrCityLawFirmWorker

“…what you sign up to when you become a lawyer…”
What about if your only way to actually ‘sign up’ is because you are in an employer/employee relationship which consists of unconscionable conduct?

Anonymous

You agree to abide by the code of conduct when you’re admitted to the roll. It’s not hard to understand.

Anonymous

And exactly how many solicitors put their clients before their enormous pockets? ?
They are suppose to lead an example to junior solicitors/trainees.
SRA Protected it’s own.
They need to open their eyes to the prolific corruption at senior levels.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

The two more senior solicitors were hit with 99% of the costs award.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Personal cost to the whistleblower? Why not make the real criminals pay? SRA should support people so they can report without “at a personal cost”. Utterly hypocritical.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

There’s always been bent sols

Walk away if you are asked to do something

(7)(0)

Tom

She’s committed a crime! Very sensible decision by SRA!

(4)(13)

Anonymous

Very brave to keep speaking out about this. Hope she lands on her feet.

Shameful decision.

(5)(4)

Mike Ross

Right decision by the SDT.

You can’t be dishonest and use the excuse that you wanted to finish your TC first.

If anything that’s worse and is entirely calculated.

(6)(2)

FmrCityLawFirmWorker

Even though she blew the whistle, according to the report?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Very superficial reasoning. Read up on coercive control.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Its always easy to be harsh in cases like this without having been in her position.

Terrible decision.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

How long until this case is added to the LPC/PSC* as a learning opportunity!?

(*Sorry non mandatory practical learning course needed to pass SQE and costing the same as the LPC)

(2)(4)

Legal Recruiter

Loving the recruiter bashing on this thread. Keep it up!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I hate em, especially when they require a LPC for a paralegal position.

(0)(0)

Nuff Sed

So a trainee commits fraud for two years and once qualified thinks she should report it. And that is a harsh decision? The point is that if you are bullied and pressured into stealing from your clients, this is the wrong job for you!

(0)(2)

Anonymous

It just prepares you for the future. Stealing from clients, being dishonest, cheating, colluding, list goes on….

(0)(0)

Ecohouse Victim

Clearly people are concerned when the SRA is heavy handed and brings strike-off decisions where a suspension would suffice, but what about when the SRA fails to act to halt fraud ? Isn’t that far more serious?

In the Ecohouse case, the junior solicitor involved played a major part in assisting a fraud. She enrolled new clients onto a scheme that was guaranteed to inflict loss. She and the firm’s partners knew that nothing was being built and that clients were not receiving returns or their funds back after the 1 year period, but continued to release client funds. The firm was receiving floods of complaints about funds being released illegitimately without any due diligence and this was reported to the SRA on 1st December 2013. The SRA did nothing to halt the misappropriation, failed to intervene on the suspicion of dishonesty and as a result hundreds more clients suffered loss because the misconduct continued right under the SRA’s nose for a further 11 months.

At the SDT trial the SRA did not allege dishonesty against any of the respondents despite a mass misappropriation of client funds of up to £33,000,000. The result was that none of the solicitors were struck off. The junior solicitor received no penalty whatsoever. The junior solicitor was working at Sanders & Co. along with her father who was the Ecohouse director for a period of ~1 year, so the independence between the two parties was compromised.

The SRA behaved in exactly the opposite way to a whistleblower in the Ecohouse case. Instead of acting on complaints about misappropriation (dishonesty), the SRA has consistently tried to conceal the fraud because they knew it would bankrupt the compensation scheme (insurers don’t indemnify fraud, so claims fall back to the SRA).

It is a sorry state of affairs when a regulator turns a blind eye to fraud and permits it to continue for 11 months in the knowledge that clients will suffer loss, and it adds insult to injury when the SRA’s actions prevent  justice being served, and for fraudulent solicitors to remain in the profession, but that is exactly what has happened.

The SRA has lost all sense of what’s right and wrong due to their conflicted position – they know that large frauds could bankrupt the compensation fund if the SRA do the right thing by establishing fraud and alleging dishonesty, so they didn’t. 

The SRA is effectively committing regulatory fraud itself through concealment of evidence and the consequential benefit that brings to the SRA whilst inflicting permanent loss on victims of fraud who reasonably expect to be protected and to receive redress for their loss. Fraud by misrepresentation would appear to hold true also because the SRA is misrepresenting the protections that are in place and breaching their obligation to protect under the auspices of the Legal Services Act 2007.

Where the Ecohouse fraud is concerned the SRA has seriously undermined its own credibility & integrity, yet none of the fail-safe mechanisms have had ANY corrective effect. The LSB, JSC and MoJ have all turned a blind eye to the SRA concealing evidence, failing to intervene, and perverting the course of justice.

Despite calls from 44 MPs for the SRA to act correctly by bringing a new SDT trial against all solicitors concerned, the request fell on deaf ears because Paul Philip simply refused. The SRA also refused to rubber stamp a lay application to the SDT to correct the SRA’s shoddy justice by making the appropriate allegations commensurate with fraud and money laundering.

Where the Ecohouse fraud is concerned the SRA is intent on denying justice against solicitor contrived fraud

(33)(0)

anon

As the saying goes, ‘if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.’ This is exactly the case with the SRA, SDT and MOJ when it comes to willfully ignoring blatant fraud by the solicitors involved in the Ecohouse investment debacle.
Their combined refusal to pursue justice, in order to protect themselves from having to financially compensate the clients affected (the very people they purport to protect), makes their very existence totally irrelevant.
When the MET and fraud squad are actively looking into the problem, it seems strange that the above bodies decided so early on that there was nothing to investigate??? They are dedicated to self interest and covering up for each other. Flagrant misconduct on their part!

(9)(0)

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