Fine for partner who failed to detail work on client files

SRA: Fine was appropriate sanction

A partner who billed for her time ‘considering’ matters but did not detail in attendance notes what she had actually done has been fined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Ann-Marie Matthews accepted a £2,000 fine and £2,000 contribution to the SRA’s costs as part of a regulatory settlement agreement which means she will not have to face a disciplinary tribunal.

Ms Matthews, who worked her way up from trainee to full partner of Lowestoft firm Nicholsons, qualified in 2004. Her work required her to act as a co-trustee and/or attorney on matters where the testator or donor had appointed her and/or the firm. This meant she and/or other partners were deemed the ‘client’ on files.

The agreement recorded that, when acting as the co-trustee on the will trust of one deceased client, Ms Matthews caused or allowed the transfer of client funds on 39 occasions between August 2009 and October 2015 without first providing a written bill of costs to the co-trustee.

She did the same between July 2011 and March 2014 in relation to an inheritance, when she failed to notify the beneficiary of the bills.

The SRA’s investigation further identified 11 client matters in which Ms Matthews had failed to keep adequately detailed attendance notes about the work that she was carrying out on each of the files.

It said she used the term ‘considering’ within some of her electronic time-recording entries and did not always provide a corresponding attendance note on the file, meaning that “the exact nature of the task undertaken could not always be identified.

The agreement said: “A client is entitled to understand how time has been spent on their matter by a solicitor and if required, request a more detailed analysis of the work undertaken than that contained in the time recording schedule.

“The circumstances of matters concerned, namely where Ms Matthews was acting as a trustee or attorney, illustrate the importance of more detailed records being kept on the file because the ultimate beneficiary of the trust or the donor of the power of attorney would not be able to match the time-recording entries with attendance notes on the file and thereby scrutinise the work undertaken.”

The solicitor, who no longer works at Nicholsons, accepted that she failed to act in the best interest of her clients and also to provide a proper standard of service

The SRA said it took into account Ms Matthew’s co-operation and the fact that no complaints were received from clients whilst she was working at the firm.

The regulator also acknowledged that there was “insufficient evidence” that serious client harm arose from her admitted failures.

A £2,000 fine – the most the SRA could impose under its current fining powers – was the appropriate outcome because “the breaches are serious but protection of the public/public interest in this case does not require a greater sanction than the SRA is able to impose”.

    Readers Comments

  • Costs lawyer says:

    Astonishing. Ripping off vulnerable, trusting clients written off for a £2k fine. Not exactly an effective deterrent is it? More likely an encouragement to others. Unsupported “considering” time is just one way of time writing. Will the unsuspecting clients be reimbursed the overcharged fees?

  • Sympathetic says:

    A little surprising that someone has referred to this solicitor as ripping off vulnerable clients with no evidence. I remember being told once that I tried to put too much detail into time recording, so suspect this is not uncommon to not write war and peace. (And also question would most clients want solicitors spending extra time doing that?). It’s very possible that she was simply considering documents, the best approach to take on a matter etc. Can easily see how this could happen to a perfectly good lawyer.

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