Solicitor took advantage of deceased lawyer’s vulnerable widow

SDT: Solicitor motivated by financial gain

An experienced solicitor has been struck off for taking advantage of the widow of a deceased solicitor after being instructed to wind up his practice and deal with his estate.

Jayesh Sasdev “targeted his client’s vulnerability, preying on her lack of English”, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found, taking “excessive and unjustified” fees from the estate in doing so.

This included charging Razia Idrees £75,000 for storing her husband’s firm’s files at his offices, up to £10,000 in estate agent’s commission (of 2.5%) for selling the firm’s office and the couple’s house, and for liaising with Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in relation to his own conduct.

Mr Sasdev was admitted in 1987 and from 1998 owned and ran Ilford, Essex firm Archer Fields until the SRA closed it down in October 2018. Annual renewal information for 2017 listed the firm’s turnover at £153,000.

Ms Idrees’s husband’s firm (called ‘ADC’ in the ruling) held some 7,659 files, documents and items at its offices when he died in 2010 and Mr Sasdev was instructed.

Once ADC’s offices were sold in 2012, the solicitor told her that they occupied over 2,000 sq ft of his own offices. When the SRA eventually intervened in ADC in 2019, by which time the matter had been passed to another firm, 441 boxes were recovered and the SRA estimated that they could have been stored at a specialist facility for around £2,000 a year.

Between December 2013 and May 2016, Mr Sasdev raised 78 interim bills – all lacking any detail –and transferred £168,000 from funds already on the estate’s ledgers.

In December 2021, he purported to send a final bill of £257,000, less the money already recovered.

Mr Sasdev did not accept that the charges were excessive or unjustified, saying the final bill particularised the work undertaken, but also told Ms Idrees that he did not expect her to pay what was still owed.

The SDT rejected his arguments: “The submission and evidence that commercial rental rates were an appropriate comparator but that storage rental rates were not, when Mr Sasdev was charging for storage, was rejected by the tribunal as wholly without merit.

“The tribunal found that there was no cost to Mr Sasdev of storing the files at the office. His evidence made clear that the firm did not lose any revenue (for example from a potential tenant) by holding the files. The tribunal noted that Ms Idrees and her sister had suggested alternative arrangements, but that Mr Sasdev had rejected those as unsuitable.”

While the estate agent’s fee was “not excessive per se”, Mr Sasdev had no agreement from his client to charge for estate agency work, having not made it clear he was doing it.

“The tribunal found that it was obvious (and that it was obvious to Mr Sasdev at the time) that charging for liaising with the SRA in relation to questions regarding his conduct of the matter was impermissible…

“The tribunal found that Mr Sasdev had knowingly and deliberately charged costs that were excessive and unjustified. It was his evidence that he was under pressure from his business partner to maximise and increase income to the business.

“[He] gave evidence that he did not consider that his client would challenge the costs charged, and that as the money was coming from the estate funds, his client was ‘not bothered’.” This conduct was dishonest.

Mr Sasdev rejected a charge of failing to provide his client with costs information, saying the transfers he made from the estate “were lawfully capable of being made by me under an authority from the client, implied from the relationship of solicitor client”.

He said he did not have a computerised time recording system. “He knew, whenever he created an interim bill, that the work undertaken exceeded the cumulative amount of any bills, as he applied his mind to it and knew that the bills were justified.”

The SDT found he had “taken advantage of his vulnerable client by deliberately failing to provide any adequate costs information so that she was unaware of the costs being charged and transferred.

“He had done so knowing that his client trusted him and was unlikely to question what he did.”

In 2012/13, Mr Sasdev was notified of seven professional negligence claims against ADC (an eighth came later). ADC’s professional indemnity insurer declined cover on the basis of its alleged dishonesty and Mr Sasdev told the SRA he intended to ask the insurer to review the decision. But he did not actually do so for over two years.

In 2013, he entered into standstill agreements to postpone limitation on the claims but, between then and 30 September 2018, when he retired, “none of the threatened claims were substantially progressed”, despite being regularly chased by the claimant firms and the SRA.

“The tribunal found that there was no excuse for Mr Sasdev’s failure to wind up the estate within a reasonable time.”

The SDT went on to find that Mr Sasdev had failed to co-operate with the SRA and tried to prevent his client and her sister doing so either – when they did speak to the regulator, “Mr Sasdev tried to tell them what to say” and also wrote letters in their names.

Further, Mr Sasdev failed to distribute or otherwise deal with £280,000 of residual client balances at ADC, and did not deliver accountant’s reports for the last two years of Archer Fields’ operation.

Ms Idrees told the tribunal she could no longer trust solicitors. She said she felt betrayed and psychologically exhausted, and was “shocked how he could get away with what he has done to me”.

In striking him off, the SDT said Mr Sasdev had been “motivated by his desire for personal financial gain”.

“His conduct was deliberate, calculated and repeated. He had targeted his client’s vulnerability, preying on her lack of English.”

The SDT ordered him to pay the SRA’s costs of £69,233.

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