Solicitor rebuked for settlement agreement demand

SRA: No need to refer solicitor to tribunal

A solicitor has been rebuked for trying to include a ban on her former employer referring her to any regulatory authority as part of a settlement of disputes between the two.

Parminder Kaur Dhillon admitted it was inappropriate to propose the clause in the agreement with West London law firm Lovell Chohan, where she had been a director.

The sanction also covered Ms Dhillon including confidential client data in documents that she emailed to herself ahead of her resignation from the firm in April 2017. She was dismissed without notice for gross misconduct two weeks later.

According to a regulatory settlement agreement published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) yesterday, Lovell Chohan was threatening a claim for injunctive relief to recover its proprietary rights in the client data, while Ms Dhillon had raised a number of grievances against the firm.

The firm’s solicitors prepared a draft settlement, in response to which Ms Dhillon included a new clause.

This said: “The Employer warrants that they have not and anyone acting on their behalf has not made a referral claim or started proceedings or entered into any communication with any regulatory body including the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the Information Commissioners Office or Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs in relation to you and the Employer expressly waives those and any such claims or rights of action it has or may have against you arising out of your employment with the Employer.

“It is a material condition of this agreement that the Employer undertakes that they shall not and shall not instruct anyone acting on their behalf to make a referral, claim or start proceedings or enter into any communication with any such body.”

The firm refused and the clause did not feature in the signed settlement.

Ms Dhillon acknowledged that her request was “inappropriate and not in compliance with her regulatory obligations as a solicitor”.

In mitigation, she said she had no experience of employment law and was representing herself at this time because she could not afford a lawyer.

On the client data, Ms Dhillon said she thought she was emailing personal documents, precedents and templates belonging to her.

She agreed to a digital investigation expert appointed by Lovell Chohan accessing her personal Hotmail account, who identified 30 documents containing client names and addresses held in the cloud.

The solicitor said she was not aware they were there, suggesting they may have been “inadvertently and automatically uploaded” when attached to a draft email which was never sent.

Though she said it was “an innocent mistake”, Ms Dhillon admitted that she accessed and transmitted outside of the firm files containing confidential, client identifiable data without their consent.

In mitigation, she emphasised that no documents or client data were taken from the firm’s case management system: they were saved on her own desktop computer in her office and not subsequently accessed.

The mitigation concluded: “The respondent is ashamed to have been the subject of regulatory enquiry and to have breached the rules. This experience has been a salutary lesson and the respondent offers her sincere apologies to the SRA, to the profession, and to the small number of former clients concerned.”

The SRA said a rebuke was appropriate given Ms Dhillon’s apology, co-operation and clean regulatory record up to now. Further, there was no evidence of repetition: “A full prosecution before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is neither necessary nor proportionate.”

She also agreed to pay costs of £6,607.

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