A solicitor who described her behaviour as “immature, foolish and wrong” in lying to a potential employer has been suspended by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT considered whether Anna Rachel Goodwin, who qualified in 2011, should be struck off after upgrading her law degree from 2:2 to 2:1 in order to get an interview with the Army Legal Services (ALS).
Ms Goodwin, aged 31 at the time, admitted before the interview that she had obtained only a 2:2 at the University of the West of England.
In an email to the ALS, Ms Goodwin explained that she included a higher grade because she was concerned that the service, which had made it clear in its advertisement for a legal adviser that it would “normally” expect candidates to have a 2:1 or above, “would otherwise have disregarded her CV”.
Ms Goodwin argued that her IQ was high and her A-Level results and degree result had prejudiced her unfairly.
She told the ALS: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for exaggerating my marks on my CV slightly and I can only hope that you will see that my reasons for doing it were genuine in that I find it frustrating that my mark on paper is not representative of my ability and holds me back.
“I have my heart set on joining the ALS and I took the risk to ensure I was noticed and got the chance to show my ability at interview.
“I believe I am suited for this role and I very much hope this is not held against me and you would still like to consider me as a candidate and for me to maintain my invitation to interview.”
The ALS responded by withdrawing Ms Goodwin’s invitation to an interview and reporting her to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SDT heard in SRA v Goodwin (case no.11411-2015) that Ms Goodwin had “wanted a career in law since childhood”, enjoyed being able to help people, and had a particular interest in family law.
“Over a number of years the respondent had struggled to obtain a secure role in a firm undertaking family law. At the material time she was working on a consultancy basis for three firms but wished to have a more permanent role.
“The respondent believed that the source of her difficulties in achieving this goal was the fact that she had a 2.2 degree, as opposed to a 2.1 or higher.
“This belief arose from her experiences with recruitment agencies, which would show initial enthusiasm when she telephoned them, but would subsequently lose interest upon receipt of her CV showing her degree result. Her CV would often not be put forward to prospective employers.
“This was not a singular experience, it was constant and over time the respondent found it increasingly frustrating and distressing.”
The SDT said Ms Goodwin did not initially admit acting dishonestly, but changed her mind after taking legal advice. “Upon recognising that her actions had been dishonest, she had resigned from her most recent job as a manager in a firm of solicitors.
“She had done so as she felt that it was the right thing to do in light of the severity of the admitted allegations and the possible outcome of these proceedings.
“The respondent apologised to the tribunal. She had learnt a hard lesson as a consequence of her actions and she would never act in a similar manner again.”
The SDT said Ms Goodwin’s counsel argued that “this was not an ordinary case of dishonesty”, with no abuse of client money, no breach of trust or financial benefit. “She had not sought to conceal her actions, indeed she had exposed them.”
The SDT considered that a reprimand, as suggested by Ms Goodwin’s counsel, or a fine, was “wholly inadequate” in a case of dishonesty and “serious consideration” should be given to striking her off the roll.
However, it continued: “The tribunal determined that the extent of the respondent’s dishonesty was limited. It had been a singular act which she had intended from the outset to correct after a short period of time and indeed had done so. The deception did not continue and could not have done.
“The impact of the respondent’s dishonesty on both her character and on the wider reputation of the profession as a whole was lessened by the limited extent of it. It was significant that the respondent could have concealed her dishonesty and would, in all likelihood, not have found herself before the tribunal.
“Having secured an interview, which was the objective of the deception, she then provided ALS with the opportunity to re-consider that offer, which they did. The tribunal accepted that the respondent had not fully appreciated the seriousness of her actions at the time but did so now.”
As a result, the most appropriate sanction was a suspension of 18 months. Ms Goodwin was also ordered to pay £3,000 in costs.