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Junior solicitor suspended for six months after trying to hide email address mix-up

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Harina Zoey Panesar-Jagdev escapes strike-off despite admitting dishonesty

A junior solicitor has been suspended for six months after showing a client a fake email in what a disciplinary tribunal called a “moment of madness”

Harina Zoey Panesar-Jagdev agreed the sanction with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) following the incident in August 2018. A disciplinary tribunal has now signed off on the deal, saying that while a dishonest solicitor would normally be struck off, these were “exceptional circumstances” justifying a mere suspension.

Panesar-Jagdev was nearing the end of her training contract with conveyancing firm LCF Residential and handling the sale of a flat for a client. Needing to send some correspondence about the sale to Firm B, she accidentally emailed it instead to Firm C, which had nothing to do with the sale: the two email addresses were “confusingly similar”.

The mistake came to light nine days later, when Panesar-Jagdev sent a chasing email and Firm C flagged the error. The client had been copied into both emails and was worried that the mix-up would delay the sale.

The trainee then tried to cover her tracks. She made a copy of the original email except with the correct Firm B email address in the “to” field and sent a screenshot to the client, claiming that it showed she had quickly realised the mistake and fixed it nine days earlier.

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That’s what made this a matter for the regulator: dishonesty can be fatal to a solicitor’s career. Panesar-Jagdev had to argue that these were “exceptional circumstances” where being struck off would be disproportionate, despite admitting dishonesty.

Thankfully, the SRA agreed, saying that this was “more akin to the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse than a calculated plot to conceal dishonesty of a protracted and ongoing nature”. The client hadn’t been negatively affected and Panesar-Jagdev “was a young solicitor who had learned from her mistake”.

Signing off on an agreed six-month suspension, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said that “this had been a fleeting or momentary lapse of judgement which had lasted a very brief period of time [about an hour] before discovery”. Panesar-Jagdev had an otherwise unblemished record and had been kept on by LCF Residential despite the incident. Her new employer was also aware of it.

The tribunal concluded:

“[T]his was a paradigm example of a ‘moment of madness’… which fell into the small residual category of cases for which strike off from the Roll would be a disproportionate sanction.”

Last year, a property solicitor who used Tipp-Ex to change the date on important paperwork was struck off by the same tribunal.

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