A solicitor who told the regulator that he didn’t “give a monkey’s” about the fate of his law firm because he had retired has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that Michael Kenneth Smith admitted that he had allowed a will writer and a solicitor, who were relatives, to run an autonomous immigration practice from his firm.
“I’m afraid I started to turn a blind eye because I wanted out,” he told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) when it interviewed him after the firm had collapsed.
Asked whether he had any control over the practice, Mr Smith replied: “No control whatsoever. I couldn’t get them to come to a meeting”.
He said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he should have set up a limited company instead of a law firm, before adding “to be frank with you I don’t give a monkey’s because I’ve retired”. He now lives in Canada.
Mr Smith told the regulator he received no remuneration from the firm – he was busy doing seminars instead.
“I’ve got a reasonable pension from when I was 60… and a wealthy partner. So to me it was more of a hobby than anything else and when I got fed [up] with it, I said I’m just retiring. I’ve had enough.”
The SDT said Mr Smith had shown a “complete disregard for his obligations as solicitor”.
The tribunal noted that the SRA received around 30 reports from people who were either clients of the firm or third parties, many of them “from elderly clients and/or clients for whom English was not their first language”. Around £13,000 had been paid out so far by the Compensation Fund.
For immigration clients in particular, the loss of documents could have “devastating consequences” – a satellite office opened by
The SDT heard that the solicitor, born in 1948 and admitted in 1976, was approved as sole practitioner of Smiths Law, a private client firm based in Oswestry, Shropshire, in 2013.
‘DSR’ approached Mr Smith “on a date believed to be in 2014” following one of his seminars and suggested the firm was transformed into Legacy Legal Solicitors.
Meanwhile, his relative ‘NSK’ started working for Mr Smith as a trainee in February 2014, qualifying in November 2015.
Smiths Law changed its name to Legacy Legal Solicitors in June 2015 and its practising address to Birmingham. The firm closed in November 2017 and the SRA began its investigation soon after.
The SDT said Mr Smith should have contacted both the SRA and the police after DSR and NSK “stripped” the offices in Handsworth and a branch office in Southall, west London.
The tribunal found that Mr Smith had failed to carry out “adequate enquiry” in relation to DSR and NSK before admitting them into the firm.
He had permitted DSR and/or NSK to “maintain control over his firm” between 2015 and 2017, including opening the unauthorised branch office in Southall, breaching further rules including principle 2 (acting with integrity).
In the same way, he had failed to have in place adequate systems to ensure sufficient supervision and control over the two men, particularly regarding immigration matters.
He had also failed to ensure compliance with the firm’s statutory obligations, in his role as COLP and COFA, along with failing to ensure client money was properly protected and accounting records properly written up.
The SDT said Mr Smith had been suspended for a year in 1987, a sanction which, despite the lapse of time, should have been “seared into his consciousness”.
He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £13,500.