The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off a senior solicitor for dishonestly holding himself out as working for his former firm and falsely stating that he had sent out fewer letters on the firm’s notepaper than he knew to be the case.
At a hearing earlier this month, the tribunal heard that Stuart Michael Stones, a former partner at Manchester firm Ratio Law LLP, had dishonestly claimed to be working for a former client on behalf of the firm when he had left some three months earlier.
Mr Stones, who specialised in renewable energy projects, was born in 1967 and was admitted in 2002. He had worked at the firm between January 2010 and January 2015.
He neither attended the hearing nor was represented.
In April, May, and June 2015 he sent letters of comfort to companies without authority in order to induce them to enter into contracts.
Further, since he was not a recognised sole practitioner or employed as a solicitor, he was not entitled to practise as a solicitor. He also lacked indemnity insurance, in breach of the rules.
The tribunal recorded that when the firm became aware of the existence of two of the letters, it appointed a solicitor to act in the matter. Mr Stones acknowledged the two letters, but did not mention that he had sent a further three.
Writing to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in June 2016, Mr Stones had claimed he understood he would continue to act in relation to former clients on a consultancy basis.
He wrote: “Equally, as a founding partner to the firm it was always my intention that I would continue to work closely with Ratio Law and any new legal instructions that could be passed (including work which I could personally undertake) would also continue.”
Ratio Law firmly denied this was the case and the tribunal accepted its submission.
Finding the solicitor to have dishonestly breached professional rules in each of the four allegations against him, the tribunal said: “His motivation had been to encourage third parties to deal with him by creating a false impression…
On the claim that only two letters had been sent, it said: “[He] had been trying to minimise and conceal the extent of his wrongdoing by limiting it to the only two letters that had come to light at that stage. The untrue statements were therefore deliberate and had a purpose.”
His culpability was “high” and while the misconduct had not resulted in monetary loss “the harm to the reputation of the profession was very high”.
It added: “The public would not expect a solicitor to send letters using the letterhead of a firm to which they had no connection containing statements which were untrue and misleading.
“This was compounded by the fact that when challenged about them, the respondent again wrote a misleading and untrue letter in response.”
Identifying no mitigating factors, the tribunal said: “The misconduct was deliberate, repeated and continued over a period of time, albeit a small number of months. He had tried to conceal his wrongdoing by committing further misconduct.”
The tribunal ordered the solicitor to pay costs of £7,487.