A “seriously inept” solicitor who transferred money to another law firm’s client account, in breach of a court order that his firm should hold it, has been fined £8,000.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Naim Ibrar Lone also allowed a solicitor, ‘Person B’, who had been suspended and was later struck off, to continue working on a file he had transferred to Mr Lone ahead of his firm (Firm B) being shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Mr Lone, who qualified in 1996, ran South London Attiyah Lone & Associates, which closed in December 2016 after he failed to obtain indemnity insurance. He set up a new firm, AL Law & Associates, but it had no client account.
He had acted for ‘Client C’ in relation to his divorce. Under the financial settlement, Client C was to receive £134,200 less costs, to be generated by the sale of the family home and a property in France.
A dispute arose between Mr Lone and Client C over his fees. Client C said he understood the fees were £29,000, but Mr Lone said they were in the region of £134,000. The costs dispute is ongoing.
In November 2016, the Central Family Court ordered that £29,000 be paid into Attiyah Lone’s office account, with around £100,000 of the proceeds of the two sales to be transferred to the firm’s client account pending a further court order or agreement between the parties.
By the time this happened, however, Mr Lone was operating from his new firm without a client account. He arranged for the money to be transferred instead to Firm B’s client account.
This was in breach of the court order; the solicitor should either have sought a variation of the order or reached agreement with Client C, the SDT said.
The SDT found that Mr Lone “believed that he was attempting to comply with the order”, but had been “inept in his handling of the situation and seriously so” and “effectively” using Firm B as a banking facility.
But though he had “demonstrated a significant level of incompetence” and breached several SRA principles, the tribunal decided the solicitor had not lacked integrity, however.
“To find that an incompetent breach of a court order to amount to a lack of integrity risked requiring [Mr Lone] to be a ‘paragon of virtue’,” it said.
“A solicitor acting carelessly, but with integrity, will breach principle 6 [damaging public trust] if his careless conduct goes beyond mere professional negligence and constitutes ‘manifest incompetence’. The tribunal considered that such was the case here.”
The following year, the SRA intervened in Firm B, citing suspected dishonesty on the part of Person B, the firm’s sole manager.
Firm B had been administering an estate for Client D, the sole executor. Person B took a purported loan of £44,000 from the estate without the client’s permission. Mr Lone allowed him to continue working on the file after transferring it to Mr Lone, even though he was suspended as a result of the SRA closing down his firm.
Mr Lone knew Client D disputed the loan and the SDT said it was inappropriate for him to allow Person B to work on the file.
Person B promised the client he would repay the money and authorised Mr Lone to register a charge against his property if he failed to do so within two months. The money was not paid but Mr Lone did not register the charge.
In failing to do this, he had not acted in the best interests of his client and had allowed his independence to be compromised.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Lone had not been motivated by personal gain – the fault lay in “incompetent execution”.
There was no breach of trust, but there was a breach of duty to the court and his clients. He was “significantly experienced and so should have known better”.
The misconduct was mitigated by Mr Lone’s co-operation with the SRA and the tribunal had not seen any evidence that clients lost any money – but this was “down to luck rather than judgement”.
He was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay just under £29,400 in costs.
Even though Mr Lone chose not to give evidence at the hearing, the SDT concluded that it did not need to place restrictions on his future practice, as it was satisfied there was unlikely to be a repeat of what happened.