A solicitor who convinced a friend that he was director of a Somerset law firm and could get her a training contract has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
While it was “not clear” whether Mr C was exploiting vulnerability within Person A for “self-gratification”, the SDT said his accusations that she fabricated text messages were an “unsubstantiated and outrageous attack” on another professional.
The tribunal heard that Mr C, admitted in 2017, was employed as a solicitor at Firm B from April 2019 until he was dismissed for gross misconduct two years later.
Person A, who had worked with him at a previous firm and described him as a “longstanding and close friend”, was in the process of qualifying as a chartered legal executive.
The SDT found that between June 2020 and February 2021, Mr C made “one or more statements” to Person A in which he claimed to be a partner at Firm B and said she had been offered a training contract at the firm, both of which were untrue.
Person A’s evidence was that she met with him in June 2020 for an in-person catch-up, “at which he informed her that [Firm B] had had a big re-shuffle and that he had been offered partnership/directorship, and that they would be taking on trainee solicitors. He went on to ask her if she would like to be one of the first such trainees.
“Mr C told Person A that [Firm B] would pay for the LPC, that she would get a company car and that because she would have qualified via CILEX before starting at [Firm B], she would be on a higher salary than the other trainees.”
Person A said she was excited about the opportunity; Mr C was aware that she was unhappy with her job at the time and that she wanted to become a solicitor. “He was her friend and she had trusted everything he said to her,” her evidence said.
However, he proved evasive on the details in multiple text messages and, in February 2021, Person A contacted another director of the firm and discovered that there was no position.
She told the SDT that she had felt humiliated by Mr C, having told others of the role, and as her previous firm thought she was leaving, it had refused to continue to pay for her CILEX fees and withdrew any future funding for her training, removed her from training courses and even began interviews to replace her. “Ultimately things became so difficult that she had to leave.”
She said she had lost a huge amount of confidence in herself, felt completely duped and was left hurt, humiliated, and distraught.
“This was a situation that had haunted her for two years,” the SDT recorded. “She could not understand why a person she thought reciprocated her feelings of friendship should lie to her in this way.”
Mr C admitted sending text messages but said “the genuine content had been replaced by Person A with information she had gleaned from their other private conversations which she then inserted into the messages”.
The tribunal rejected this as “highly implausible” and described Person A’s evidence as “credible, consistent, reliable and persuasive”.
Mr C was found to have acted dishonestly in making false statements to Person A. He was also found to have acted dishonestly in two further offences.
In July 2016, while working for another firm as a trainee, he improperly withdrew £485 from Client A’s client account to pay a debt owed by Client B “in circumstances where Mr C knew he had neither the consent of Client A nor instructions from Client B”.
He was also found to have made statements about his employment history to Firm B in April 2021, shortly before his dismissal, which he knew were untrue.
The SDT said that, while he was still working at the first firm, he accepted a job offer from Firm B, but told BGW to wait eight months for him to complete his training. Leaving the first firm, he started work at another, without telling Firm B. He was effectively “keeping them in reserve” in case the job did not work out, as in fact occurred.
Then, when asked by a Firm B director about his employment at the second firm – which was discovered in a Google search – Mr C concealed it by lying.
In assessing harm, the SDT said there had been “serious harm to Person A who had experienced humiliation, disappointment [and] damage to her ability to trust others”.
He was struck off and ordered to pay £17,500 in costs.