Solicitor instructed and paid by clients without telling firm

SDT: Strike-off the only appropriate sanction

An immigration solicitor who misappropriated £31,500 of his law firm’s fees by failing to record clients and then paying their fees into his personal bank account has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Umar Rehman admitted receiving fees personally in 41 matters over a two-year period, which began while he was still a trainee.

The SDT heard that Mr Rehman started work as a paralegal at M&K Solicitors, based in Luton. After little more than a year, in August 2016, he became a trainee solicitor.

He was dismissed in July 2020, having admitted misappropriating £31,500 in fees due to the firm. M&K Solicitors reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) a few days later.

In an agreement with the solicitor, approved by the tribunal, the SRA said the law firm first became aware of the issue in June 2020 when a client called the Luton office, asking about the status of his immigration application and saying he had paid Mr Rehman £1,300 in fees.

M&K Solicitors had opened a Birmingham office early in 2018 – to which Mr Rehman moved in 2019 to run it – and Mr Rehman said the client’s file was there, with the fees in the safe. But one of the firm’s managers went to the office and found nothing.

Mr Rehman later told the firm he had forgotten to register the matter on the firm’s case management system and “misplaced” the file and the fees, before transferring the £1,300 to the law firm.

On the same day, however, another client asked for an update on a case that was not recorded on the system. At this point Mr Rehman admitted he had not registered either case, or a further four matters, and had kept the fees in each case.

He was suspended by M&K Solicitors but soon after confessed that his wrongdoing was more extensive, providing a spreadsheet of 42 matters where he had acted for unrecorded clients and kept their fees.

An investigation by the SRA found that Mr Rehman had received £7,500 in fees into his bank account in nine matters, and £23,800 in cash in the remaining 32.

The solicitor admitted acting dishonestly and with a lack of integrity.

He told the SRA in mitigation that, only nine months after qualifying as a solicitor, he agreed to run the Birmingham office, following the resignation of the only solicitor that worked there.

Mr Rehman said he had been able to obtain “successful outcomes for a majority of his clients”. He realised that he had “thrown away that which he had strived so hard to achieve” as the first-generation son of Pakistani immigrants.

He also highlighted that he had been a newly qualified solicitor asked to run an office without supervision.

But he accepted that he should be struck off the roll. The SDT agreed, saying it was the only sanction which protected the “overarching public interest”.

Mr Rehman also agreed to pay costs of £6,350.

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