A solicitor who carried on practising for almost five months after his practising certificate (PC) and indemnity insurance expired has been struck off.
Colin Kenneth Grooms described himself as “careless” and said he was “simply helping my clients at a time when they needed my help”. He denied practising without authorisation on the grounds he was “running down the business”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that, although the sole practitioner’s motivation had included “an element of helping clients and wanting to wind down the practice”, his misconduct was planned.
Mr Grooms “chose not to renew” his PC and insurance, but still took on clients and continued practising.
The tribunal said his clients ended up being represented by an “unqualified, uninsured solicitor”, and “the court was misled as were other parties to any litigation”.
In addition, Mr Grooms, who also did not keep proper accounts “from at least 2012” to the closure of his business in 2018, was found not to have co-operated with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) over a complaint.
The SDT said the loss to clients “had not been quantified” beyond the “obvious fact of the shortfall on the client account”.
The tribunal heard in SRA v Grooms that the solicitor was admitted in 1993, practising as Colin Grooms Solicitors in Norwich from February 2011 to 2018.
His final PC expired on 31 October 2017 and the following month Mr Grooms notified the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that his firm would cease to practise on 8 December 2017.
However, the SDT said that Mr Grooms went on acting for several clients.
In one case, he wrote to the court on the firm’s headed paper in January 2018, enclosing a statement of information form for a consent order he had signed, and referring to himself as leaving the profession before the end of February.
However, he later invoiced his client for “professional charges” covering the period from 1 February to 24 March 2018.
Mr Grooms took on another client in November 2017 and sent a notice of acting to court the following month.
The SDT said this was a “complete contradiction” of what the solicitor told the SRA in July 2018 when he said he “had not taken on any new clients”.
It was “an act that went beyond simply winding down the firm” and made it clear that Mr Grooms was “proactively engaged in representing his client in divorce proceedings”.
The SDT said it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he had continued to practise unauthorised from 31 October 2017 to “at least March 2018”.
Mr Grooms argued that he was “running down the business” rather than practising, did not have £3,000 to pay for his indemnity insurance run-off cover and had contacted most of his clients to avoid leaving them “high and dry”.
He denied dishonesty, but the tribunal found that he “knew he was continuing to act”, aware that he had not altered his letterhead and had completed the notice of acting.
“The respondent made no attempt to notify the regulator that his intentions had changed or to correct the information given on the closure notice form.
“The tribunal had rejected the respondent’s defence that he was not practising but simply winding down the practice; that was inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence.”
After his indemnity insurance expired on 30 September 2017, Mr Grooms was covered for a further month by the extended indemnity period, and then for a further two months by the cessation period for firms unable to obtain cover, during which he should not have taken on any new work.
Once the latter period expired, “he should not have been doing any work at all”.
Mr Grooms was also found to have failed to keep proper accounts and to co-operate with LeO, failing to respond to two letters sent to him regarding a client complaint.
The solicitor was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £10,900.
Meanwhile, the SRA announced yesterday that it has decided not to appeal the SDT decision in the case of former Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith, who was fined £35,000 by the SDT last October over a sexual encounter with a junior member of staff.
The tribunal’s recently published full ruling decided that, despite his inappropriate conduct, Mr Beckwith was not a “future risk” to the public or profession.
However, it has since emerged that Mr Beckwith is to appeal to the High Court.