A law firm which surcharged more than 2,000 clients to help repay the loan it took out for a new case management system has been fined £30,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The partners of Taylor Bracewell, which has offices in Doncaster and Sheffield, also undertook to repay £18 to each of the 2,225 clients charged between June 2017 and October 2019, totalling £40,050, after admitting they failed to treat the clients fairly.
The SRA’s investigation has been compromised by a regulatory settlement agreement, which recorded that in June 2017 Property Search Group (PSG) loaned the firm £60,000, half the cost of buying and implementing a new case management system.
As part of the deal, Taylor Bracewell agreed to order all conveyancing searches from PSG until the loan was repaid.
Each client was charged £193 for the search pack, which included £18 towards the loan. The firm did not tell its clients that the fee included this.
Taylor Bracewell stopped charging clients the £18 at the end of October 2019, returning all the money to client account in May 2020.
It admitted failing to protect client money and assets, failing to behave in a way that maintained the trust the public places in it and in the provision of legal services, and not treating its clients fairly.
The SRA said a fine “reflects the seriousness of the misconduct and creates a credible deterrent for the firm and others”.
In mitigation, Taylor Bracewell pointed out that it admitted the allegations at the earliest opportunity, moved all the money back to client account and provided undertakings about returning it to clients using “all reasonable endeavours”.
The fine was calculated at 1.3% of the firm’s £2.9m turnover, reduced to £30,540 to take account of the early admissions and cooperation with the investigation.
It also paid costs of £1,350 to the SRA.