Solicitor who misled clients over LPA forms is struck off

SDT: Solicitor admitted dishonesty

A solicitor who told clients that the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) was to blame for what were actually her own errors in registering lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Kayleigh O’Donnell, a senior associate in the private client department of Essex firm Pinney Talfourd, admitted dishonesty.

An agreed outcome with the solicitor, approved by the tribunal, said the firm referred Ms O’Donnell to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in March 2021 after a complaint from ‘Client A’ that led the firm to issue her with a written warning.

The SRA said the OPG changed the LPA forms from LP2 to LPF1 in 2015. The former required a separate signed registration form to register LPA, whereas the latter did not.

Ms Donnell, who qualified in 2012, acted for clients A and B in relation to an LPA for finance and witnessed them signing a LPF1 in October 2018.

However, two years later, when Client A asked her to register the LPA, she sent the clients LP2 registration forms. The OPG refused to register the LPA as a result.

In a letter telling the clients that the OPG needed different forms, Ms O’Donnell said: “They have changed their registration process depending upon the date in which the LPAs are signed.

“Due to Covid delays they have only just informed me of this, despite having the registration documents for several months.”

Neither was true. In fact, the OPG had responded in just over a month, a period which included Christmas, and the delays in progressing the matter were down to the solicitor.

Client A complained to Pinney Talfourd’s managing partner because of the delay. He had checked with the OPG after receiving Mr O’Donnell’s letter and learned that it had not changed the registration process and LPAs were worked on when received.

Ms O’Donnell told the managing partner that she “probably should have been more upfront and stated I’d used the incorrect form” and asked the clients to sign the correct one, but she thought it best “not to open that ‘can of worms’”.

In a separate matter, Client C contacted the solicitor in October 2020 to register her father’s LPA and Ms O’Donnell made the same mistake in relation to the forms, but there was no delay issue in this matter.

She told the SRA that she did not set out to “maliciously deceive” Client A and had been embarrassed about making a “minor error”.

She admitted acting dishonestly and with a lack of integrity in sending a letter to Clients A and B containing a “false assertion”, and being recklessness in sending a letter capable of giving a “misleading impression” to all three clients.

In a mitigation, she said she was under a “considerable amount of stress” at the time of the misconduct, personally and professionally.

“Working in private client during Covid was incredibly challenging and the number of clients I was required to manage was excessive and I worked long hours.

“I also had family members in remission from cancer, whilst my mother has a weakened immune system due to having a stroke when I was 16. So another lockdown with all the associated stress just exacerbated an already stressful situation.”

She added that although her actions did not result in any harm or financial loss to her clients, they were the subject of “deep regret”.

Ms O’Donnell was struck off and agreed to pay £5,000 towards the SRA’s costs.

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