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Solicitor who owed barristers £146,000 in fees is struck off

Client money: Multiple rule breaches

A solicitor who admitted that he owed barristers over £146,000 in fees, and even took money from the estate of his dead mother, has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Richard Charles Prescott, principal of Prescotts in Kidderminster, had used client money to keep the firm in business.

He filed “disingenuous and misleading” defences in litigation with professionals over unpaid fees.

The tribunal said Mr Prescott’s actions were planned in transferring client money he knew was to pay disbursements from client to office account.

“The respondent’s conduct had caused harm to the reputation of the profession. He had been successfully sued by counsel and other professional suppliers for outstanding fees.”

Even his sisters had made claims on the Compensation Fund for the return of money he had improperly used.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority found that barristers’ unpaid fees totalled at least £146,200 plus costs and interest.

Four judgments on unpaid counsel’s fees totalling over £50,400 had been made against the sole practitioner, although he was “in the process of appealing these judgments”, the SDT noted

From March 2016, Prescotts was on the Bar Council’s List of Defaulting Solicitors.

The SDT found Mr Prescott had committed a long list of other rule breaches.

He borrowed almost £44,700 from a personal injury client’s interim damages, which the tribunal said showed a lack of integrity, while also providing loans of at least £5,000 to another client.

He failed to serve one or more claim forms on behalf of a client in proceedings at Dudley Crown Court, resulting in his client’s claim being struck out and costs awarded against the claimant.

He lacked integrity in transferring £14,700 from the estate of his deceased mother, without the authorisation of his two sisters and fellow executors, to the firm’s client account and later office account.

Mr Prescott was found to have committed multiple accounts rule breaches, allowed a shortage of over £149,100 on client account without remedying it and made an improper transfer of £2,100 from a client’s residual estate funds, again displaying a lack of integrity.

In all, he was found to have been dishonest in the way he received money for disbursements but failed to pay professionals.

The tribunal said Mr Prescott “knew that he was using client money to support his business” and “his position as to the chaotic nature of the accounts did not explain his conduct” in at least one matter.

“Not only did he not pay counsel in the clear knowledge that the money had been received, he continued to dispute that monies were owed.”

The sole practitioner was also found to have been dishonest, with one exception, in filing “disingenuous and misleading” defences – endorsed by statements of truth – in response to claims made by professionals for unpaid fees.

He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £32,000.