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Junior solicitor struck off for trying to cover up costs order against her client

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Newly qualified Katherine Gilroy said her mental health had suffered from overwork

A newly qualified solicitor who worked herself into a state of nervous collapse has been struck off for trying to cover up a £3,000 costs order against her client.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Katherine Gilroy, who suffered from work-related anxiety and depression, had demonstrated “a very serious lack of integrity” by failing to own up to a mess that she claimed was due to overwork.

Gilroy had only been qualified for about a year when she sat on escalating correspondence demanding payment of a small costs order, hoping to conceal the fact that she hadn’t dealt with it right away.

The disciplinary judgment striking Gilroy off the roll of solicitors contains a statement of agreed facts, but redacts the name of her employer.

Gilroy joined the firm as a paralegal in 2014 and qualified as a solicitor in January 2017. From the beginning of her time at the firm, she had been dealing with a client, AT, who was suing his business partner.

As part of the litigation, the firm applied for pre-action disclosure on behalf of AT. The application succeeded, but the client was ordered to pay costs of £1,500 plus VAT after the documents had been disclosed.

Disclosure was duly made “towards the end of May 2017” — triggering the £1,500 payment. The solicitors on the other side, Carpenters, started asking for the money in July.

Here’s where things went wrong. Gilroy seems to have overlooked the first Carpenters letter demanding payment, telling the tribunal that this was “due to her other workload”. When Carpenters sent a chasing letter three weeks later, she “panicked” because she hadn’t told her boss about the first demand and “was afraid of what the consequences would be” for not dealing with it promptly.

But the under-pressure junior wasn’t able to make the costs issue go away. After several chasing letters and warnings, Carpenters secured a second court order requiring Mr AT to pay £2,700 within 14 days. In November, it took the issue to the County Court.

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A “panic-striken” Gilroy didn’t tell her client or counsel about any of this correspondence either. Apart from a response to one of the chasing letters asking Carpenters to hold fire, she “failed to take any action or bring the matter to the attention of the client”.

By December 2017, the amount owed was £3,100 and Carpenters had written directly to Mr AT notifying him of a charging order they now had over his property. Gilroy’s supervisor and counsel were now in the loop — but they were under the impression that this had come out of the blue, as she continued to hide the earlier warnings from Carpenters that they would go to court over the money.

By now Gilroy “felt like she was in a hole” and “could not see a way out”. Playing along with the fiction that Carpenters were the ones in the wrong, she even drafted a letter for sign-off containing statements that she knew were “incorrect or disingenuous”, such as that the charging order had come “without notice”.

She then pretended to email this letter to Carpenters, but used an address that she knew would bounce back. Despite getting a delivery failure notification, she forwarded the email to the client as though it had been sent.

A few days later, Gilroy came clean, admitting that she hadn’t sent the letter as it was “not true and that she had been aware of the court orders” all along. She resigned following an investigation and eventually wound up before the SDT.

While admitting most of the allegations against her, Gilroy insisted that she had not been dishonest or malicious.

She had been in a bad way with her mental health, saying that she had “struggled to deal with the pressures of working in a small law firm” and felt like she was “carrying the weight of an entire law firm” on her shoulders despite being newly qualified.

Gilroy also suffered from “work-related anxiety and depression”, producing medical evidence of her “history of work-related stress… for which she had received medication over an extended period”. At times she reported “physically collapsing”. She added that she had no such issues since leaving the firm.

These claims weren’t part of the agreed-upon facts, however, and the disciplinary panel brushed off her depression and inexperience as mitigating factors. The SDT found that Gilroy’s conduct was “deliberate, calculated and repeated” and involved “a very serious lack of integrity”, concluding that a strike-off was the right sanction. She also owes costs of £3,301.

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32 Comments

Vomit Bomb

I sympathize with the initial mess up, and know that sinking feeling and the nausea that comes with it. However this is quite a cover up – cannot understand why you wouldn’t come clean sooner?

(64)(1)

Heh

LC does seem to take a certain glee in reporting cases like this.

(53)(1)

Baz

Alex is a failed lawyer don’t forget. Very into schadenfreude.

(38)(4)

Andrew

It’s always sad when something like this happens to a junior lawyer who didn’t do it out of malice but in a panic state after making a mistake.

There are partners and senior partners who are still at their law firms despite doing a whole lot worse

(99)(0)

Mere observer

As observed elsewhere in the comments there are far more rotten apples in the profession. I wonder if her boss was a bit of a tyrant and she was genuinely worried and buried her head in the sand. It’s almost more frustrating that the amount at issue was so low. That said she was clearly under a huge amount of stress – even physically collapsing – so I hope she can now go on to do something she enjoys a lot more. I do fear that many juniors will in this position feel their working life is at an end and also be incredibly embarrassed for their family etc. Worse things happen in the world and she will get over this and hopefully have a very enjoyable and fulfilling professional life in a different industry. Had that level of anxiety continued the longterm outcome could have been much worse. I certainly wish her all the best.

(71)(1)

Passed the Bar and know I little bit

I really sad story to read. Anyone who says they have never experienced that awful sinking feeling after sending/receiving something is lying to you. Although this is unfortunately the correct outcome you fear that with a different Parnter/firm this would not have happened. I echo the other comments on this piece – I hope she goes on to a career she grisly enjoys, you never know, this might just be a blessing.

(28)(0)

David Gale

Was the work related depression concurrent with the misdemeanor? If so, why wasn’t this case also regarded as a failure of supervision over a newly qualified solicitor or are nineteenth century work practices still de rigeur with the SDT?

(32)(0)

Anonymous

The profession talks about helping those with mental health issues, but acts to kick them out at every opportunity.

(35)(0)

Kim Wexler

Yet another over the top decision. Regulation gone mad. She made a mistake and panicked and just go it in too deep. Fine and a bollocking would have sufficed. Love to see some of these holier than thou types who sit on these tribunals take a fall. Problem is the Puritans are back in charge and don’t we know it.

(22)(11)

feasel

She agreed with the outcome.

(2)(0)

Response to Feasal

She did. But that was likely 1. To save face (or what was left of it) and 2. Because she knew her fate. The SRA do not give a f*ck and they sympathise with none. Funny that…bit like my supervisor too.

(11)(0)

MMMhmmm

I dont agree. I’ve been investigated by the SRA and NFA’d when it was quite evident I had been dishonest about something.

The problem is you never ever hear about those cases where they dont take enforcement action or exercise their discretion. Yes they do look at context and exercise discretion.

The SRA are never going to have a fan club or be liked. Their there to protect the profession.

(0)(3)

Star100

I’m surprised that this lawyer’s firm was not named. Surely a question of supervision and culture at this firm should have been examined thoroughly. I hear such stories and my heart sinks. Such cases are becoming all too frequent. I wish there was a proper support organisation where juniors could call for advice and support. This matter should not have escalated the way that it did. Lawcare is heavily underfunded and does not have qualified counsellors especially those who have an understanding of how ruthless this profession can be towards juniors.

(18)(1)

Bad Wind

Oddly it’s on the SRA website: https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/solicitor-check/601247/

She has my sympathies. These high street firms typically pay low wages and give NQs no support. A friend of mine qualified into a high street firm doing employment on £19k a year and was basically left on her own. Needless to say she left after a few months and changed career.

(10)(0)

Anonymous lawyer that f*cks up every now and then

This is very sad but what could you possibly expect to happen from this level of deceit? Deceitfulness is guaranteed to result in a strike off.

Junior lawyers – please hear me out. Mistakes happen. I have made countless f*ck ups. In those initial stages, your focus should be on damage control. If you don’t do anything about it, the damage will become irreversible, as will the damage to your career.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

“When Carpenters sent a chasing letter three weeks later, she “panicked” because she hadn’t told her boss about the first demand and “was afraid of what the consequences would be” for not dealing with it promptly.”

What sort of work environment was she in that she didn’t think she could tell her boss there was a slight delay in responding?

(26)(1)

Anonymous

And there are many more like it unfortunately. Like the firm I was at as a trainee – the supervisor was very good at throwing a rant, but terrible at giving proper guidance and, as a result you felt as though you couldn’t run anything past him.

I’m now 2 years qualified and am much happier in my current place of work.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I know the feeling. I was almost unsupervised in my first seat. It gave me severe depression and anxiety and every time I sought out guidance I was given hell.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

How did the £1,500 in costs morph into over £3,000 and a charging order?

(0)(0)

Alan

Looking through the SRA judgment it appear that the original costs order (from the PAD application) was £1,500 + VAT. The other side then applied for the charging order which took it to £2,700. Then they applied to transfer the judgment to the High Court for enforcement, which added a further £400.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Thanks – I thought only £110 was recoverable for a charging order application.

(1)(0)

Alan

Hmm, that’s a good point. So they could get £110 plus the application fee (isn’t that also £110? Although fees seem to go up every time we look the other way).

Can’t see how they could get round fixed costs here. Can’t be a contractual right.

So how *did* they get to that figure one wonders?

(5)(1)

Anonymous

We need the big mental health charities to be condemning this sort of thing instead of schmoozing with HR and management. Mind – let’s be hearing you on this case please.

(5)(0)

Stranger

I think people have mental health issues when they do not enjoy practice they are doing.deneg.
People deceive themselves that they like this profession. But in reality, they do it only for the sake of money, then long hours and crazy deadlines drives them mad.

(0)(3)

Response to stranger

To be fair, I really enjoyed my practice area. It was the team (and my supervisor) that made me miserable and depressed.

(1)(0)

Marcus Aurelius

More evidence, should it be needed, that the law is a toxic profession, which should be avoided like the plague. If you value your mental health steer well clear.

(8)(0)

Disappointed but not surprised

How many of these kinds of tales do we have to read. Junior solicitors – everyone will make mistakes. Just do not lie about them.

There are so many levels of deceit in her actions that a strike off was inevitable. Sending a letter which includes knowingly false statements on a firms’ letter head is beyond me.

Own up to mistakes and go into damage control with the assistance of a partner.

(2)(0)

My Cross

Definitely no Harvey Specter

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Okay first year.

(2)(0)

Elliott Sylvester III

Basically this is a complete failure in supervision much more than anything else.

(3)(0)

Jasicada

Anything to do with the firms who are only interested in the making of money is wrong they only care about themselves not ANYONE who needs their help. She made a mistake as a junior where were the seniors to advise her. They dont even represent their clients properly half the time.

(0)(0)

David S

Every now and again, I see people qualifying as solicitors or being taken on as assistant solicitors when they are massively below the level that they need to be, lack competence, have insufficient technical skills, knowledge etc, yet they’re desperate to the join the profession.

At one place I worked there was a paralegal who eventually qualified as a solicitor elsewhere. I wouldn’t have trusted her to walk my dog.

Quite right that this woman should be struck off.

(1)(0)

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