A solicitor claiming to have become overwhelmed by pressure of work has been struck off after dishonestly misleading clients that she had made court applications.
In one case, she created a fake email to convince the client she had done her job when she had not.
Catherine Ann Sandbach admitted three allegations, and in an agreed outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepted that she should be struck off. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal agreed, noting that her case, though “sad”, involved “significant dishonesty”.
In mitigation, Ms Sandbach claimed that she had been suffering from depression, saying she had misled clients not for personal gain but simply in an attempt to “buy time” to deal with an expanding workload.
She asserted that no client had in the end apparently suffered financial loss or otherwise and that she had dealt with ”hundreds” of matters without problems in a “hitherto unblemished career”.
The solicitor said she was “genuinely sorry” for her misconduct and the difficulties caused for clients.
However, complaints received by the firm when it became clear to clients that their matters had been neglected revealed extreme disappointment and fury.
Ms Sandbach was admitted in 2009 and worked as an assistant in the litigation department of Woodfines in Bedford. She committed the misconduct between the end of 2015 and summer 2016, at which point she was dismissed by the firm.
She worked for about a further two years as a solicitor, before leaving her employment in August 2018, saying she had no intention of returning to legal practise.
The three cases where she falsely claimed she had issued proceedings involved a boundary dispute, similarly misled a director into believing a freezing injunction had been sought in a business dispute, and a bankruptcy order.
In relation to the third allegation, instead of applying to the court for the injunction, the solicitor fabricated an email which she purported to have sent to the Insolvency Service to seek an annulment of the bankruptcy order, and backdated it to before the deadline set by the service.
Meanwhile, a bankruptcy trustee was appointed. An SRA-appointed computer expert could later find no evidence the email had been sent when she claimed it had.
Ms Sandbach’s mitigation was not endorsed by the SRA. She claimed she had been “under a great deal of stress” when the misconduct occurred, partly because her employer had expected her to deal with matters beyond her experience as a solicitor.
She had suffered, and continued to suffer, “from anxiety and depression”. A medical opinion she supplied confirmed this was due to “work-related stress”, as was evidenced by the symptoms resolving since she changed career.
But she did not seek to argue that these amounted to the type of exceptional circumstances that could persuade a tribunal not to take the usual course of striking-off in cases of dishonesty.
The agreed outcome concluded: “[Ms Sandbach] misled her clients on three separate matters. She repeatedly told untruths to her clients to conceal her own inaction.
“As their solicitor [she] would have known that her clients would have trusted her with their matters and taken her at her word. However, she abused that trust by misleading them and by providing them with information that was not true.”
She was ordered to pay costs of £2,600.