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No sanction for trainee solicitor who inflated billing hours

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Tribunal finds rookie was not dishonest

A trainee solicitor who billed clients for work she had not done has been cleared of wrongdoing.

Michelle Louise Craven, who was working at Cheshire outfit MLP Law Limited at the time, was accused of dishonesty and a lack of integrity by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

She admitted claiming time for work she had not done — £2,991.50 for 20.2 hours during the final seat of her training contract in 2018 — but denied dishonesty and any breach of regulator’s rules.

The young rookie, representing herself, told the tribunal she had been suffering from anxiety due to the “unrealistic deadlines” and “excessive working hours”, the Law Society Gazette reports, further claiming colleagues within her department were “oppressive and unapproachable”. She also claimed the firm had a culture of anticipatory billing.

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“They should have known the stress they were putting me under by offloading their work on me,” Craven reportedly told the tribunal.

For the SRA, Andrew Bullock argued “if that culture did exist, and we do not accept that it did, then she should simply have declined to join in”.

The tribunal found Craven was not dishonest and had not breached any SRA rules. She was, however, instructed to pay fixed costs of £3,000, with the SRA told to cover the rest of the bill.

Legal Cheek reported earlier this week how a newly qualified lawyer was struck off for trying to cover up a £3,000 costs order against her client. Katherine Gilroy, who suffered from work-related anxiety and depression, had demonstrated “a very serious lack of integrity”, according to the tribunal.

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26 Comments

Anon

Seems “I was stressed” is a standard defence. Shouldn’t the SRA be looking into this? Prevention is better than cure.

(80)(3)

Anonymous

Alright Inspector Clouseau calm down. Pretty minor in the grand scheme of things

(9)(22)

Doctor PE

How did the: partner responsible for the client or the finance department not raise the alarm before billing the client?

(36)(1)

Anon

Because he wanted to pocket them billables! Duh.

There’s gotta be a better way to be a junior in any law firm. I just have no idea what that is.

(6)(0)

35.6 Celsius

She may not have been sanctioned but she did pay costs. The Tribunal passed the buck on sending a strong message about treatment of juniors.

(8)(3)

Magic Circle SA

Stress at MLP Law in Cheshire?! Bet the decision would have been different if the defendant was male.

(22)(35)

Associate-from-home

Stress is practically ubiquitous in law – certainly not limited to City firms.

(39)(2)

I will have vengeance

I can’t tell you how many partners I know that time dump. For example, my current supervisor, who is a colossal prick, logs in at 8am and signs off bang on 5.30pm. He takes a 1.5 – 2 hour lunch break. He posts, on average, 10-12 chargable hours per day. How, precisely, is that possible?

On top of that, all of his work is CFA based and he is able to claim a 25 percent success fee. The entire team is aware of what he is doing, and he has created a culture which allows for this of reprehensible behaviour. They all do it now.

And believe me, they push the costs team to write off as little as possible. They are ripping off clients.

Once I qualify, and move firm (I’m not staying), I’m reporting the entire team to the SRA. They have been getting away with this for years. I am also keen to punish him for the all the sh*t that he has put me through. Thankfully, I have not joined in this kind of conduct, so will not be punished unlike that other whistleblowing trainee.

(91)(1)

John

How do you know he bills 10-12 hours a day

(3)(12)

I will have vengeance

Weekly time sheet goes around the sheet. You can also see what people post each day on our time recording software.

(34)(0)

Trainee

You should report him and the team now? What’s the point in waiting?

(16)(0)

Anon

And he can’t be logging on later and working from home?

(0)(7)

I will have vengeance

He doesn’t do that. He’s very “these are my working hours and I won’t go beyond that”. If he calls you at 6pm he expects you to answer. If you call him at 5:40pm, he literally declines the call, even if you urgently need his guidance. He works Monday to Friday, and very rarely on a weekend (I have worked the last 8 weekends and haven’t seen him logged on. Our software also tells you how long a person has been on or offline for). Irrespective of whether he works from home, he posts more time than he is logged in for. Even if you were logged in for 10 hours, it’s not possible to record 10 hours of chargable time. Anybody who practices knows this. You have to factor in lunch breaks, going for a p*ss/sh*t, talking to colleagues, meetings, and non-chargable time.

I’ve traced his movements for a while now and I’ve built up the evidence I need, with dates.

(25)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

But you won’t report him until your sorry ass is out of the frame. In the meantime more clients fall victim to his thieving bad billing. When will you ever pluck up the courage to act when the moment demands? That moment is NOW.

(6)(19)

Gaba

Will you fund the pension for the poster above?

Also, it sounds like a quite set behaviour. What is the rush?

Anon

I would either report him now and leave or don’t report him at all. I read about an NQ solicitor who did precisely that – whistle blew- only to herself be struck off by the SRA because she had a duty to whistleblow sooner and by not doing so she was complicit in the dishonesty.

Just thought you should know.

(34)(0)

Be careful

I’d just be careful about reporting after you leave. Not that they don’t deserve it, but I am sure I’ve read an SRA/tribunal story where a trainee was punished for reporting after the event and not whilst it was happening. Even though the trainee wasn’t involved, it was considered a lack of honesty/integrity to sit and do nothing whilst it was happening around them.
Completely unfair to expect a trainee to report it whilst they’re training, and risk not completing their TC, but that’s the stance the tribunal took in the story I read on LC.

(10)(0)

I will have vengeance

Oh yeah, that reminds me – he tells his army of paralegals to post how long a task would usually take, not how long it took. So for example, if a letter on a particular subject would usually take you an hour, but you have a precedent from a previous file, and that allows you to write the letter in 20 minutes, he tells you to post the full hour. I kid you not. Where do you draw the line though with that reasoning?

(11)(1)

anon

Plenty of billing software packages let you see everyone’s time…

(6)(0)

Billy Joel

Understandable. And most of it goes unnoticed so people can get off their high horse.

I have never worked at a firm where people haven’t openly joked about ‘time dumping’, even more so on a file that may have a fixed fee.

From the second anyone enters this profession we are hit with billing targets that will eat into your work life balance and we strive to hit them through either the work drive of reward or threat of punishment.

As long as that one 6 minute unit exists in law firms people will round it up and exaggerate their time in an attempt to ‘climb the ladder’

(8)(0)

Trainee

This seems really odd to me. The SRA strike off people or otherwise issue sanctions left, right and centre but when you have someone time dumping (which is, in my view, clearly dishonest) there is no breach of the Code of Conduct or SRA rules.

I’m not saying I want the trainee punished or anything but it just doesn’t seem to chime with a number of other reported decisions.

(11)(1)

Lucifer

I remember a trainee who time recorded around 10 hours a day on files that were closed. That’s right. There was no fee payable. It was just a way to hit her time recording target. The firm never realised until after she had gone. She was sitting there all day doing nothing and she had a lot of live files that hit the fan after she left. Some of them had already been struck out or missed limitation deadlines.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

That’s phenomenal…

(2)(0)

Judex

What’s the difference in reality between charging a client £2,000 for work that hasn’t been done and stealing £2,000 from client account?

(3)(0)

Capitalist extremist

Lawyers have the right to bill clients whatever they want. This of it this way, you do a three year degree, followed by the LPC, followed by a TC. That’s 6 years of hard work. When you finally make it, you have earned the right to overcharge clients. If they don’t like it, they will leave a bad review, go to another firm next time, etc.

It is what it is bruh.

(1)(8)

City NQ

This just underscores the lunacy of basing progression and success on meeting billing targets as opposed to the quality of the work. Billing targets mostly just serve to punish efficiency and reward those who are slow, inefficient, or who lie. It also takes absolutely no account of the quality of the work. You could hit your billing target just doing 2,000 hours of bundling, and be considered “a better lawyer” than someone who has done 1,600 hours of genuinely decent work that has really progressed a transaction or a case without overcharging the client.

Our business model is dangerously out of date.

(13)(0)

Comments are closed.

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