A solicitor whose lack of supervision contributed to a decision that a trainee’s two years of work did not count towards her qualification has been rebuked and fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Louise Thomson, who was admitted in 2006, accepted the sanction under a regulatory settlement agreement (RSA), which means her case will not be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
It is the maximum penalty that the SRA can levy short of a referral to the tribunal.
In March 2011, Ms Thomson began working as an in-house legal consultant for an unnamed company which in July 2011 was authorised by the SRA to take trainees. She was authorised as a training supervisor and shortly afterwards a trainee named only as ‘Ms R’ started working at the company.
The RSA recorded that between around October 2011 and February 2013, Ms Thomson took maternity leave. She stopped supervising Ms R and nobody replaced her. Nonetheless, Ms R undertook legal work and held herself out as a trainee solicitor.
Additionally, Ms Thomson failed to renew her practising certificate (PC) during her maternity leave, causing the SRA to revoke her existing PC in August 2012. This meant she was ineligible to act as Ms R’s training supervisor, although she did eventually renew her PC in February 2013.
In December 2013, an SRA adjudicator decided that the entire period of Ms R’s employment as a trainee solicitor with the company did not qualify as adequate training, due in part to the fact that she had not been adequately supervised.
As part of the RSA, Ms Thomson admitted that she failed to perform her obligations as Ms R’s training principal, and failed to inform the SRA both of her 15-month absence from the office and consequent inability to supervise Ms R’s training, and that she was ineligible to act as a training principal while she did not have a PC.
Ms Thomson apologised for the breaches and in mitigation highlighted that she self-reported her absence after the maternity leave period and enquired about any necessary extension to Ms R’s training contract.
She further reported Ms R’s conduct to the SRA and fully co-operated with the SRA, including returning to the company to assist with an audit into the experience of Ms R which was used by the adjudicator to make the decision on whether the training was adequate.
The RSA continued: “The breaches, which have been admitted, were not intentional or wilful and the SRA accepts that she did not act dishonestly or without integrity
“Ms Thomson has provided medical evidence which the SRA accepts adversely affected her judgement and ability to comply with her regulatory obligations at the relevant times.”
Ms Thomson also agreed to pay £7,685 towards the SRA’s costs.