A London solicitor who took confidential information from defunct London firm Davenport Lyons (DL) to his new employer without client consent has been rebuked and fined £2,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The regulatory settlement agreement, published by the SRA on Friday, means that Peter Aldis will not have to face a disciplinary tribunal.
He was a consultant at DL up until April 2014, when the firm entered administration. Gordon Dadds bought the firm but did not retain Mr Aldis, who instead moved to Westminster firm Bircham Dyson Bell (BDB) as a consultant.
After a report to the SRA, a search of Mr Aldis’s desk drawer at BDB in early June 2014 yielded a hard drive containing 11.7GB of DL client data, specifically 11 files where DL had been instructed by commercial property developers on the sale of newly built residential properties.
The data had been transferred to the hard drive just before DL went into administration. The hard drive was subsequently stored in a gym locker and thereafter at a colleague’s home before Mr Aldis started working at BDB and put it in his drawer. The hard drive was neither encrypted nor password protected.
The contents of the hard drive were subsequently uploaded onto the BDB computer system without telling BDB. Mr Aldis did not go through the firm’s matter-opening procedures in relation to the transactions.
The search also uncovered further files that he had obtained after leaving DL by contacting his former secretary, despite express instructions from Gordon Dadds that he should refrain from contacting any employee except its head of compliance.
On 29 May 2014, the day after these files were sent, the client involved told Gordon Dadds that BDB was taking over as his solicitors.
Mr Aldis admitted that he downloaded confidential client information, inappropriately obtained more, and then uploaded it, all without client consent
He also admitted that he failed to take any or adequate steps to protect the confidentiality of the information.
In mitigation, Mr Aldis submitted that his consultancy agreement with DL had no restrictive covenants, and that the client data was obtained from DL “in chaotic circumstances on the day the firm went into administration”.
He also said that none of DL, Gordon Dadds, the administrator, or the administrator’s solicitors had advised him about handing over client files and he “was unclear on the correct approach to client continuity”.
Further, the client data retained related to clients that were his own introductions, were not physical files and included a number of publicly available documents.
Finally, Mr Aldis said that he believed that he was acting in the clients’ best interests.
Andrew Smith, managing partner of BDB, told Legal Futures: “I can confirm that Mr Aldis worked at BDB for less than one month and left BDB immediately after the incident in question.
“BDB cooperated fully with the SRA during the early stages of its investigation but has had no recent involvement and was not a party to, or aware of, the terms of the settlement reached.”