Lawyer fined for dealing with clients behind firm’s back
SRA: restrictions on practising certificate
A legal executive who acted for clients without telling her employer, and paid client money into her own bank account, has been fined £2,000 and restrictions placed on her practice now that she has qualified as a solicitor.
In a regulatory settlement agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Joanna Marie Fisher – who is now a consultant at CLP Group Limited in Cardiff – admitted breaches of the SRA Principles and of the accounts rules.
At the time she was working at Newport firm Keith Evans & Co (KE). The agreement recounted that in June 2013, she had decided to move to another firm and sent emails to at least two of KE’s clients saying that she was going to leave. “At the time she had not told KE that she was going to leave, and did not tell KE she was telling clients about her move.”
The following month KE dismissed Ms Fisher and she started working at her new firm. In January 2014 she was admitted to the roll of solicitors. KE complained to the SRA about Ms Fisher’s conduct while she was still working for the firm.
Ms Fisher accepted that she twice took money from KE’s clients for legal work, which she paid into her own personal bank account.
In relation to the first, a commercial tenancy, she claimed she held onto the £780 paid to offset a debt she said KE owed to her but later offered to pay it to KE.
In the other case, Ms Fisher told the client she was leaving KE and the client said he wanted to continue instructing her. She therefore asked him to pay her directly and he paid her £300.
In mitigation, Ms Fisher said that no client suffered any detriment or loss, and no client made a complaint as a result of these matters. Further, she had no intent to cause any harm to any client, and “was under considerable professional and personal stress at this time, which was a short period and involved only the matters mentioned”.
To conclude the case, Ms Fisher agreed to pay a fine of £2,000, plus £2,350 in costs, and that her current practising certificate be subject to a condition that she could not be a partner/manager/sole practitioner without the SRA’s permission.
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