“Completely incompetent” newly qualified solicitor struck off and firm fined for lack of supervision

SRA: firm reported misconduct

A newly qualified solicitor, described as “completely incompetent” and “like a rabbit caught in headlights”, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Joseph Paul Gill, 30, worked at Cain & Cochran Solicitors, based in Bolton. The SDT fined the firm £7,500 for failing to supervise him properly, and ordered it to pay costs of £20,000.

The tribunal heard that Mr Gill was admitted in September 2012, and started working for the firm, which specialised in crime and motoring law, the following month to set up an employment department.

The firm, it noted, did not operate a bespoke case management system and its case management was based on electronic files saved on the server, paper files and the use of whiteboards in what was initially a one office, four-person practice.

It found eight of 10 allegations against him proved, and one in part. These included telling an employment tribunal that particulars of claim had been sent to a respondent when they had not, failing without good reason to attend a judicial mediation and failing to comply with an employment tribunal order.

Mr Gill was also found to have acted dishonestly in sending a director of his law firm a false client care letter to cover up the fact he had not sent one in a case.

Cain & Cochran admitted twin allegations of failing to operate an adequate system of supervision and to provide a good standard of service to clients.

The tribunal found that the motivation for Mr Gill’s misconduct did not “appear to be financial” and much of it arose from the “chaotic way” he was working.

“It appeared that he wanted to progress and enhance his role and did not want to be criticised. He had been completely incompetent and had become like a ‘rabbit caught in headlights’.”

The SDT said Mr Gill’s misconduct had been “deliberate and repeated” and he “concealed his wrongdoing”, failing to tell his employer about a wasted costs order or a claim that was struck out.

The tribunal said it had taken into account that he was a “relatively inexperienced practitioner” and that he had been “inadequately supervised” but it did not consider that he was “disarmingly honest”, as claimed by his counsel.

“It was not clear to the tribunal that [Mr Gill] had learnt anything from what had happened,” the SDT said.

“He had panicked and found himself out of his depth, but he had not sought help from his supervisor and instead he had put on a veneer that everything was alright and had represented to a director that a client care letter had been sent when it had not been.

“Given the severity of the misconduct the only appropriate sanction was for [his] name to be struck off the roll of solicitors.”

The SDT found that the law firm suffered from a “lack of attention to detail”, but had “desired to drive a new area of practice forward” when the misconduct occurred.

“The misconduct was repeated and the lack of supervision lasted from when [Mr Gill] commenced at the firm until he left. The supervision that did occur was reactive and not appropriate for a junior solicitor.”

Indeed, it went on, the lack of effective supervision was how Mr Gill had been able to deceive the firm. It had taken the opportunities presented by expanding into employment law without supervising him appropriately. “The correct procedures may have been set out in writing but they were not followed.”

The tribunal found that, as a result, six of the firm’s clients “received services from the firm that were not to an appropriate standard”.

However, the SDT said Cain & Cochran had “altered the way in which it supervised employees” and its new system was “far more robust”.

The SDT said the firm had also “made a number of payments to the affected clients” to make good the impact of Mr Gill’s misconduct and notified the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of the issues that had arisen.

A spokesman for Cain & Cochran said: “It was in fact the firm who reported the conduct of Joseph Gill to the SRA as they had concerns in the manner in which he had dishonestly conducted himself during the course of his employment and the manner in which he had conducted client matters.

“As soon as the conduct on the affected files came to light, some of which only came to light after his employment had been terminated, the firm took immediate steps to remedy the same and went above and beyond to rectify the issues that became apparent.”

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