Law firm office manager paid herself nearly £1,500 to cover tea and coffee expenses

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By Rhys Duncan on


Regulator takes action

The solicitor’s regulator has taken action against an experienced office manager who withdrew £1,450 from her law firm’s office account for tea and coffee expenses.

Jacqueline Tunstall, who had worked at Sunderland-based McKenzie Bell for over three decades, acquired the cash through seven pre-signed office cheques between October 2022 and January 2023.

Tunstall claimed that this was to cover expenses such as tea, coffee, milk, and sugar, although did not retain receipts for this or inform the directors that she was incurring the expenses. She also didn’t tell them she was reimbursing herself using the cheques.

It was common practice, the SRA said in its regulatory agreement with Tunstall, for employees to bring in their own refreshments. Even if this was not the case, the regulator noted that the size of the office “would not warrant such high expenditure on these items”. The firm’s website lists five solicitors as working at the firm, at least one of whom is based in a different office.

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In any event, the SRA continued, the firm expected such items to be purchased using the petty cash and a record to be kept of all expenditure.

Tunstall is now subject to a section 43 order, preventing her from working for any firm of solicitors without the SRA’s prior written permission.

In imposting this sanction, the regulator noted how Tunstall “has used her trusted position and control over the firm’s accounts to create a financial benefit for herself”.

“Given her lengthy experience working in the accounts department at a law firm, should Ms Tunstall obtain employment in the future there is a high chance it will be in a role of the same nature, the regulator said. “Based on her conduct, Ms Tunstall has demonstrated that she is not a trustworthy individual to hold such a role.”

She was also ordered to pay £300 of costs.

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