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Suspension for ex-magic circle lawyer caught with cocaine for second time

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Rumbled by an anonymous letter to HR

A City solicitor has been suspended from the profession for 12 months after being caught with cocaine for a second time.

Matthew Podger, who worked for top commercial law firms in London, tried to cover up his second police caution for possession — only to be rumbled by an anonymous letter to HR.

The former finance associate resigned days after the second caution came to light and has now accepted a one-year suspension as part of a settlement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Podger’s first brush with the law came while a junior associate at Slaughter and May. He joined the prestigious outfit as a trainee in 2011 and qualified in 2013, working in the firm’s financing practice.

In April 2014, he accepted a caution for possession of cocaine and promptly came clean to his employer and the regulator, telling the SRA that it was “a one-off and uncharacteristic lapse of judgment on my part”.

The SRA obviously agreed, deciding that the only sanction needed on that occasion was a “letter of advice”. Podger disclosed this first caution when he moved to Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in March 2017.

But on 9 March 2018 he was arrested outside his home with three wraps of cocaine. Police cautioned him a second time for possession.

This time, Podger decided to keep things under wraps. He later told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) that he felt he had “no choice but to keep secret what had happened” to save his career and his troubled marriage.

On 10 January 2019, however, Cleary Gottlieb’s head of human resources received a letter marked “Re: Matthew Podger”. The anonymous missive mentioned Podger’s first caution and said “you may wish to investigate whether he received any additional sanction for further offences in the same category last year”.

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Confronted with the allegation, Podger ‘fessed up. Cleary Gottlieb suspended him and he resigned a few days later.

In a settlement with the SRA, published last week, Podger admitted various breaches of regulatory rules and accepted that the second caution and the delay in reporting it both demonstrated a “lack of integrity”.

In mitigation, Podger said he had been “undergoing a period of significant stress in his personal life due to problems in his young marriage. He had also been working very long hours at work and was often away from home”.

Podger also said that “he knew of his obligation to inform his regulatory and firm of the second caution, as he had done after he accepted the first caution in 2014. However, he would not have his wife’s support during the process which would almost certainly result in his losing his job and his career and so his marriage and home too”.

“Ultimately”, the tribunal commented, “this is exactly what happened”.

Crucially, though, Podger denied dishonesty in relation to the reporting delay. A finding of dishonesty normally leads to being struck straight off the roll of solicitors.

The SRA decided not to pursue the dishonesty allegation, saying that “we accept the Tribunal may not find it proved to the required standard”.

That paved the way for a lesser sanction of a one-year suspension and costs of £1,809, as well as a ban on working as a law firm compliance officer.

Signing off on the settlement, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal commented that “neither the protection of the public nor the protection of the reputation of the legal profession justified striking the Respondent off the Roll”.

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