Solicitor struck off over misconduct

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7 July 2014

SRA: striking off was the only appropriate course of action

A solicitor best known for his involvement in the failed Axiom Legal Financing Fund, which caused some law firms major financial problems, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Timothy Schools, from Sedbergh, Cumbria, was struck off after the tribunal found proved 10 allegations brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in relation to his work at ATM Solicitors in Preston. The case was not related to events at Axiom.

These included failing to act with integrity, acting where there was a conflict of interests, and acting in a manner which led to his independence and that of ATM Solicitors being compromised.

The allegations related to the involvement of Mr Schools and ATM Solicitors acting on behalf of clients who challenged the enforceability of various consumer credit agreements; the manner in which he acted for such clients; the involvement of, and interest held by, Mr Schools in other organisations involved in the litigation which gave rise to a conflict of interest; the way in which the work and the firm was funded; the extent to which he allowed the firm’s independence to be put at risk, and the extent to which non-solicitor third parties were able to exercise an inappropriate level of control and influence over the activities of the firm.

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Mr Schools did not attend the hearing, the costs of which are still to be fully assessed.

The tribunal found he was the subject of very serious charges, almost every aspect of which had been proved against him. The seriousness of the misconduct was aggravated by the fact that Mr Schools’ actions were quite deliberate and continued for a period of time.

The SDT said he was an experienced solicitor who had been in practice since 1999. It found that he had been motivated by financial gain and the misconduct arose from the way he operated the firm. His disregard for clients, preferring his own financial interests, was damaging to the reputation of the profession, according to the tribunal.

Mr Schools made a written application requesting that if the hearing went ahead in his absence, with a finding and/or a sanction made, it should be stayed pending his appeal. The tribunal said it was not disposed to grant a stay of sanction as the public needed to be protected.

Gordon Ramsay, SRA director of legal and enforcement, said: “This is Mr Schools’ second appearance at the tribunal for similar breaches of the Code of Conduct. His deliberate conduct fell so far below the standard required of a solicitor that striking off was the only appropriate course of action.”

Mr Schools has 21 days from receipt of the SDT’s judgment to appeal.

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