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

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By CJ McKinney on

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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