Non-lawyers banned from law firms in misconduct blizzard

SRA: Section 43 orders issued

Five non-lawyers and a member of CILEx have been banned from working for law firms for a range of offences, from faking signatures and misusing season ticket loans to fabricating a client’s will to name themselves as a beneficiary.

They have been made subject to orders under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974, or section 99 of the Legal Services Act 2007 in the case of those working for alternative business structures, meaning they cannot work in the profession without the approval of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The regulator published a series of decisions yesterday.

Geraint David Lewis, a graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), forged his manager’s signature on the CILEx portfolio he had prepared for his application to become a fellow.

Mr Lewis had been working for the real estate team at Eversheds Sutherland since June 2017.

The SRA said that in January this year he told the law firm he had been offered another job and it was agreed that he would leave on 31 January 2020.

Mr Lewis received an email from CILEx on 27 January 2020 asking him to provide further information to support his application to become a fellow.

He prepared the further information over the next two days for the portfolio showing the work he had done at Eversheds.

Instead of getting his manager to sign the documents proving he had done the work, Mr Lewis faked his signature and put the portfolio in the post tray so it could be sent to CILEx.

On the same day, his manager “identified that he had put the portfolio with the fabricated signatures in the firm’s post tray”.

Mr Lewis admitted fabricating the signatures and dishonesty. The SRA said Mr Lewis left Eversheds on January 31 2020 and was “currently not working”.

Under a memorandum of understanding with the SRA, CILEx Regulation’s investigation into Mr Lewis was put on hold pending the outcome of the SRA’s action. It will now restart.

Meanwhile in Bristol, the SRA said Emily Elizabeth Bale missed a court hearing in June 2020 and “amended correspondence on a client file to cover up her mistake”.

Ms Bale had been working at DAS Law as a paralegal for two years. She initially misled her employer about what had happened, but admitted what she had done after being presented with “further evidence”. She too had acted dishonestly, the SRA said.

Helen Erotokritou, a former PA who worked as a document production specialist in the secretarial services department of Kingsley Napley in London, misused interest-free season ticket loans from the firm.

Ms Erotokritou, who had been working at the firm since 2016, was paid a season ticket loan of £2,492 in 2018 and £2,556 in 2019, which she used for other purposes.

The SRA said: “The firm is unable to confirm whether it asked Ms Erotokritou to produce a receipt for the purchase of a season ticket pass in 2018. When she was asked to produce a receipt in 2019 and was unable to provide one, a disciplinary investigation commenced.

“During the disciplinary hearing, Ms Erotokritou stated that she has used the loan monies she had received in 2018 to purchase a season ticket pass. Later in the hearing she accepted that this was untrue.”

Ms Erotokritou was also found to have misled her employer when completing Kingsley Napley’s annual screening questionnaire in August 2019.

She answered ‘no’ to a question about whether she had been the subject of court or tribunal judgments or orders, “failing to disclose that she was subject to a county court judgment for a debt which remained outstanding”.

Ms Erotokritou was dismissed by Kingsley Napley in February this year, after it reported her conduct to the SRA. She admitted dishonesty.

Stephanie Jones worked in the credit control department of Worcester firm Harrison Clark Rickerbys from April 2018.

She was notified by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in July last year that she had received £6,665 in housing benefit that she was not entitled to.

The SRA said the DWP interviewed Ms Jones and charged her with failing to notify her local council of an increase in her income.

She pleaded guilty in December 2019 to failing to declare a change of circumstances to the DWP contrary to the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work.

Wendy Outhwaite was a secretary by Switalskis Solicitors in Wakefield between June 2015 and December 2018, having previously worked at Steel & Co, which merged with Switalskis.

She was found to have fabricated a will in the name of a client, naming herself as a beneficiary, and amended and created documents to give the impression the client had given instructions to this effect.

She also amended a receipt from a jeweller to disguise the true amount she had received for the sale of a client’s jewellery.

In addition to the section 43 order, Ms Outhwaite – who acted dishonestly – was ordered to pay a £7,500 financial penalty.

Hannah Louise Jones was a paralegal by Proximo Legal Services in Chester between November 2016 and February 2019, when she was dismissed.

It was found that she provided misleading and inaccurate information to clients regarding the progress of their personal injury claims.

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