Solicitor fined after acting for friends and family without insurance

PII: Most clients were told solicitor was not insured 

A solicitor who was unaware that the rules had changed so that she could not handle friends and family’s conveyancing for free without insurance has been fined.

In imposing a small fine of £768 via a regulatory settlement agreement, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rescinded a decision to refer Jane Thirza Moir to a disciplinary tribunal.

Ms Moir self-reported to the SRA in July 2021 over what she said were “unintentional” rule breaches made initially through her own company, Springbeck Properties.

Up to November 2019, a solicitor could act for family and friends without insurance provided they did not accept remuneration. Ms Moir was not aware that this changed with the introduction of the Standards & Regulations that month.

She told the SRA: “I conducted legal matters from home without professional indemnity insurance under the belief that if I made no charge for my legal services and advised the clients that I have no professional indemnity insurance, it was permissible to act for them because they were close family friends or friends of close family friends.

“I found out two days ago this is incorrect as a result of a change in the rules and have endeavoured to obtain insurance retrospectively. I am unable to do so, having contacted Imperial who confirmed that I needed a minimum fee income of £22,000 or projected fee income of that amount and could not cover me retrospectively in any event.”

Ms Moir also admitted that she had conducted several conveyancing matters for friends where client monies were received, in breach of accounts rules, in accounts over which she had personal control but which were not designated client accounts.

She then began working at Lowestoft-based Goodwin Cowley in March 2021 and sent property transfer forms to the Land Registry in the name of the firm – even though her clients were not its clients – “in the erroneous belief that as I was now employed at Goodwin Cowley it would have been wrong to submit the applications personally by post from my home”.

In two of the matters detailed by the SRA, there was no evidence that she advised the clients that she was not insured, but generally she did, it said.

In one case, the client borrowed £68,0000 from Ms Moir/Springbeck Properties to assist with the purchase of this property and there was also no evidence that the solicitor advised her client to seek independent legal advice before entering into the loan.

The SRA said that, whilst Ms Mori “of course” ought to have ensured that she was informed of the rule change, “this appears to be a genuine case of oversight rather than a lack of honesty or integrity”.

“The respondent was also not accepting remuneration for work that she undertook. It cannot therefore be inferred that she was putting her own interests above the interests of her client.”

Nevertheless, “the nature of the allegation remains a serious one” and meant that a rebuke was not a sufficient sanction. A fine would “protect both the public and the reputation of the legal profession from future harm” from Ms Moir.

The agreement added: “Whilst there is no evidence of any harm to her clients, the failure of the respondent to ensure she keeps up to date with changing rules and regulations creates a risk of harm to the public and the public’s confidence in the reputation of the legal profession.”

Ms Moir also agreed to pay costs of £4,000.

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