A solicitor who told clients to pay fees into his personal bank account, in some cases for work that was never done, has been struck out by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
Matthew Goldborough admitted that he had “failed to disclose the existence of clients” when working for one East London law firm, “dishonestly intending by those failures to make a gain for himself”.
Mr Goldborough, admitted in 2005, worked as a consultant and employee at various law firms between 2016 and 2021.
In an agreed statement of facts and outcome approved by the SDT, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said Client A1 emailed Mr Goldborough in July 2017 to instruct NR Legal Solicitors in Ilford, Essex, in divorce proceedings.
Mr Goldborough, a consultant at the firm, told her the fees would be £1,000 and the client made cash payments totalling £650 by September 2017. She was given receipts with an NR Legal stamp.
But by February 2018, when Client A1 requested a refund, he had done no work and did not return the money. NR Legal confirmed that, whilst the client was on its system, there was no record of any payment to the firm.
Client B1 contacted NR Legal in October 2018 about a visa application and met Mr Goldborough at the firm’s office. Client B1 paid him £300 in cash and transferred a further £400 into his personal account.
Again, he did no work on the matter, this time for three years, and the money was not returned. NR Legal held no files or money relating to Client B1.
The client has since been advised that his visa application would now be very difficult; had it been made in October 2018, it would have been very straightforward.
Client C1 approached the solicitor at the end of 2019 to help with a matrimonial matter. She paid £850 into his personal bank account in January 2020. He said he would need more money in a few months to “feed his boss”.
She contacted him again early the following year after her ex-husband launched legal proceedings relating to their family home and access to their children. Mr Goldborough asked for further payments and she paid £200 into his bank account.
The SRA said that, between March and September 2021, the solicitor did no work, including not attending a court hearing. He returned her documents in November 2021, together with £400, but £650 was outstanding.
At the time, Mr Goldborough was a consultant at Caveat Solicitors, based in West London. The firm again held no files or records of payments relating to Client C1.
Clients D1 and D2 contacted the solicitor regarding an immigration matter in April 2021, when he was working for Julia & Rana Solicitors, based in East London, as an associate on a fee-share basis; the firm was meant to have 45% of the fees he generated.
They met him at the law firm’s office and handed over £3,190 in cash, receiving two receipts with the firm’s stamp. One was for legal fees of £600, paid into Mr Goldborough’s personal account, the other for NHS fees of £2,590.
The solicitor requested a further £150 for biometric appointments, which was paid into his personal account. He contacted the Home Office using his personal email address.
When Client D1 contacted the law firm, she was told Mr Goldborough had been suspended and there was no record of her on the system. However, three months later he reported to her that the leave to remain application had been successful.
He was found to have been dishonest in not disclosing the details of Client D1 to Julia & Rana given the fee-share arrangement in place.
In non-agreed mitigation, Mr Goldborough said he accepted that his actions were not of the standard expected in relation to these four clients, “in comparison to maybe hundreds of other clients throughout my career”.
He said he retired from the profession after restrictions were put on his practising certificate in November 2022. Further, he had repaid £600 to Client C1 and would be willing to repay the other clients.
Mr Goldborough said Client D1 was known to him personally and he acted as he did as Julia & Rana was “effectively closed down” at the time (April 2021) because of Covid restrictions.
“I accept absolutely that this pragmatic approach, although conceivably in the best interests of the client in terms of their time limits, was in breach of the [rules] and my contractual obligations.”
He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £1,000.