Ban for office manager who used client money to prop up firm

SRA: Still investigating firm

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has imposed a control order on a law firm’s office manager who took money from client account to pay wages and “prop” up the practice.

Jacque Aitken was “incredibly apologetic” for her actions and was actually the person to alert the regulator to the missing money.

She has been made subject to an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974, which means she cannot work in the profession in future without the SRA’s permission.

She worked at Simpkins & Co in Lyndhurst, Hampshire for eight years. In her role, she had access to its bank accounts and was partly responsible for the payment of invoices and expenses.

According to a regulatory settlement agreement published yesterday by the SRA, Ms Aitken admitted that, from August 2022, she made numerous transfers from the client accounts of two clients – in excess of invoices delivered – that totalled £176,000.

She used the money to pay for office expenses, including staff wages and repaying business loans.

“Ms Aitken was aware that it was wrong to make such transfers,” the agreement said.

She left the firm in April 2023 and the SRA said it continued to investigate the matter.

The regulator acknowledged her remorse and that the transfers were made to stop the firm from failing, rather than for her own benefit.

“At the time of the conduct, Ms Aitken was experiencing a high level of stress and was not, in her view, afforded support by her employer,” the agreement went on.

“Ms Aitken held the belief that the money taken from the matters of Client A and Client B would be replaced promptly by the payment of invoices and costs due to the firm.”

The SRA and Ms Aitken agreed that, though she had acted to “prop up” Simpkins & Co, her actions made it “undesirable for her to be involved in a legal practice”; she accepted that “ordinary and decent people would regard her conduct as dishonest”.

“There is a risk that Ms Aitken may act in a similar way in the future if she were to be employed in a comparable role in a law firm and there is a strong public interest in controlling Ms Aitken’s employment at firms we regulate.”

Ms Aitken also agreed to pay SRA costs of £400.

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