A former City partner who operated “under the radar”, concealing the unauthorised and unregulated status of his firm, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT found that Alan O’Doherty knew that his firm, GM Law, needed authorisation but chose instead to hide behind the “corporate veil” of several different names.
The tribunal heard that Mr O’Doherty was a director and shareholder, as well as the COLP and COFA, of City firm McCarthy Denning, from September 2013 until July 2015.
Mr O’Doherty entered into a consultancy agreement with the firm in 2014 to deliver services under the McCarthy Denning brand, an agreement which ended in November 2015.
The SDT said the solicitor “attempted to justify” practising under the name GM Law by asserting, among other things, that he was authorised to practice “by virtue of his directorship/shareholding” in McCarthy Denning.
The tribunal found that a clause in the consultancy agreement between Mr O’Doherty and the City firm made it clear that he was obliged to use the firm’s letterhead and email address.
McCarthy Denning sent a report to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in November 2015, raising concerns about letters sent by Mr O’Doherty on behalf of Global Debt Recovery Ltd (GDR) stating that GM Law Solicitors was a “trading style” of the City firm.
Mr O’Doherty admitted sending 279 letters to debtors on “various GM Law letterheads”, on which the SDT said the footer “incorrectly stated” that GM Law was a trading name of other firms.
“The tribunal concluded that the respondent sought to conceal the true status of GM Law, namely unauthorised, unregulated and uninsured, in order to retain GDR as a client.”
Mr O’Doherty was admitted in 2003 and at the time of the misconduct was working as a solicitor in Surrey under the name GM Law.
He was previously a founding member of Merchant Legal, in respect of which GM Law was an authorised trading name until the law firm was dissolved in September 2013. Mr O’Doherty then became a “founder member” of McCarthy Denning.
After the law firm’s report, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) sent a further report to the SRA in June 2016.
This stated that it had received an application from GDR for regulated status, and “upon consideration of the same, concerns were raised as to the status of GM Law”.
During its investigation, the SRA obtained letters from clients, one of which was headed GM Law, which it stated was a trading name of Alan O’Doherty, “authorised and regulated” by the SRA.
The firm registration number quoted “was in fact the respondent’s personal SRA number” and did not relate to an authorised entity.
The tribunal found that Mr O’Doherty practised without authorisation, breaching SRA principles 2, 4, 6 and 7.
The solicitor, who did not attend his disciplinary hearing, argued that he practised as GM Law “under the authorisation of” McCarthy Denning “as a trading style” of the City firm.
He said the law firm was “aware that GM Law was a trading style”.
The tribunal found that Mr O’Doherty “carried out activities as a solicitor for GDR under the name GM Law”, which had never been authorised and had only ever been authorised as a trading name of former firm Merchant Legal.
The SDT accepted evidence from McCarthy Denning “in its entirety” that GM Law was never one of its trading names.
The tribunal also found that Mr O’Doherty had “misrepresented” that GM Law was an authorised entity, and he had acted dishonestly in doing this and in practising without authorisation.
The SDT said the solicitor had “deliberately orchestrated” the framework within which GM Law operated with “apparent authorisation” and his conduct was “deliberate, planned and repeated” over a period of 18 months.
Mr O’Doherty was struck off and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.