ABS solicitor set to face disciplinary tribunal

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By Legal Futures

1 July 2016


Probate: questions over solicitor's charges

Probate: questions over solicitor’s charges

A solicitor who failed in his attempt to challenge the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s closure of his alternative business structure is now to face a disciplinary tribunal, it has emerged.

Michael John Elsdon is facing 15 charges, largely in relation to his conduct of probate/estate administration matters.

Mr Elsdon practiced under his own name until 2013, when he bought Woolacott & Co and set up an ABS, Sai-Donne Limited, with his non-lawyer wife as a co-director.

The head office was Mr Elsdon’s home in Barnstaple, Devon, but there were also branch offices in Lancing, West Sussex and North Walsham, Norfolk.

In December 2014 the SRA intervened into the practice on the grounds, among other things, of “reason to suspect dishonesty on the part of Mr Elsdon”. Earlier that year the regulator had secured a High Court order to obtain crucial evidence.

Last year, in what was the first challenge to the closure of an ABS, Mr Justice Newey said there was reason to think that Mr Elsdon had “lost his ethical compass”.

Newey J went on: “It seems to me that the risks attached to withdrawing the intervention outweigh those of continuing it. As I have said, the available evidence appears to me to provide clear and cogent evidence of dishonesty as well as indicating breaches of the code [of conduct] and accounts rules.

“On the basis of the (admittedly less than comprehensive) material before me, I consider that Mr Elsdon and Sai-Donne cannot safely be trusted with the administration of estates or other work.”

The allegations are subject to a hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and are as yet unproven.

Among them are that Mr Elsdon transferred nearly £40,000 from client to office account in respect of an estate following a court assessment that he was only entitled to charge the estate £8,000, and then failed to repay the sum despite confirmation from the High Court on two occasions that his charges should be £8,000.

He is also alleged to have “sought to adjust each beneficiary’s share of the estate to benefit himself, and thereby acted where there was a conflict between himself and his client”.



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Is it time solicitors started taking ethics training more seriously?

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The requirement for solicitors to behave ethically in modern legal practice is more relevant than ever. Solicitors are still held in fairly high regard by the public, although that esteem is on the wane according to last year’s Trusted Professions poll by Ipsos Mori. Lawyers are less trusted than teachers and doctors but at least we prevail over accountants and bankers. We still hold a position of trust but we must work to hold that position. The current Solicitors Regulation Authority proposals to revise the Handbook are evidence that work still needs to be done.

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