Leading firm rebuked over client account misuse

WBD: Lowest level sanction

Leading transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) has been rebuked for providing a banking facility to a client by receiving and paying out more than £2m that did not relate to any legal work it was doing.

The firm blamed the actions of a single partner for the misconduct.

A regulatory settlement agreement published today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said that WBD acted for a ‘Client A’ in relation to a commercial scheme under which the firm held funds at Client A’s instruction.

The money was deposited by three individual clients of Client A who were not WBD clients.

Over a five-year period, the firm “allowed payments to be made, on the instruction of Client A and the clients of Client A”, from this money – in all, around £2.3m.

WBD self-reported and the SRA found the payments were not made “pursuant to instructions relating to an underlying transaction or to a service forming part of [WBD’s] normal regulated activities”. In other words, it provided Client A with a banking facility.

The firm admitted its misconduct but said the situation arose due to the actions of an individual former partner who set up bank accounts outside of WBD’s central finance function.

It said it self-reported as soon as it became aware of what had happened and cooperated fully with the SRA.

The agreement said: “The degree of the respondent’s culpability for this issue is reflected by the fact that it has been agreed that the respondent should receive a rebuke, being the lowest level of sanction available in a regulatory settlement agreement.”

WBD also agreed to pay costs of £3,840.

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