Solicitor who ‘retained’ but never instructed counsel is struck off

SDT: Precision of language is paramount

A solicitor who dishonestly misled his client, his client’s son and the other side about the progress of litigation he was conducting has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) rejected Andrew Lynsey Jones’s arguments that he had been misunderstood when he said counsel had been ‘retained’ – this did not mean one had actually been instructed.

Mr Jones, who qualified in 2000, was a partner and owner of Hartlepool firm MSP Legal Services, which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) closed down in April 2023.

‘Client A’ instructed the firm in March 2010 to negotiate a financial settlement of a claim against his former partners at a medical practice who had dissolved their partnership.

Client A said he wanted a quick resolution and was prepared to settle, but he rejected an offer received soon after.

In February 2012, Mr Jones told Client A he had “retained” counsel with a view to providing an opinion and settling the court documentation. That June, Mr Jones told the defendants’ representative that he had received final views from an independent accountant and also from counsel.

In fact, counsel was never instructed and the SDT said there was no evidence one was even spoken to.

The SDT recounted that little progress was made until Mr Jones issued proceedings in the High Court in 2014, but he neither served the claim form in time nor sought an extension of time.

He continued to correspond with the defendants and Client A until March 2020, when he confirmed to the other side that Client A would be prepared to accept the offer turned down a decade earlier.

Mr Jones had “led Client A to believe that he was progressing the claim, albeit slowly”, the SDT said. After Client A’s son had complained about the lack of activity in 2018, Mr Jones told him an application for a court hearing had been made. This was not the case.

The son complained to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), which in 2020 concluded that Mr Jones had failed to progress the claim over several years or provide Client A with any update even when specifically asked.

It also found he failed to follow Client A’s instructions to pursue an out-of-court settlement and did not provide a statement of account evidencing all payments made or an estimate of future costs.

Mr Jones further failed to provide Client A with copies of correspondence to evidence any work done on the matter despite the client’s offer to cover their reasonable copying costs.

LeO recommended that MSP should refund all £7,267 received in costs and disbursements, write off nearly £10,000 in unbilled work in progress, and pay compensation of £2,500 for the distress and inconvenience caused as a direct result of the poor service.

The ombudsman referred Mr Jones to the SRA. He admitted the allegations but denied that he had been dishonest.

His solicitor told the regulator that “Mr Jones accepts that the wording in his correspondence of 8 February 2012 was ‘infelicitous’. It was not unusual for a solicitor to say that they have ‘retained’ (rather than instructed) counsel. The words, taken in context suggest that Mr Jones had identified suitable counsel but had not instructed him”.

The SDT disagreed, saying: “The tribunal considered that Mr Jones explanation as to how he had deployed the term ‘retained’ amounted to nothing more than semantics… [T]hat assertion sought to minimise the seriousness of the misconduct.

“Solicitors, and all providers of legal services, are well aware that precision of language is paramount in all communications.”

The fact Mr Jones could not name the direct access counsel he said he had identified showed he had not “inadvertently” misled Client A, it went on.

Rather, he had “intentionally misled Client A [on seven occasions between 2012 and 2015] by referring to having retained, spoken to, communicated with unnamed counsel in circumstances where he plainly had not and knew that he had not”.

The SDT similarly did not accept his submission that indicating to the other side that counsel had been instructed was “a careless mistake” or done for tactical reasons. “The tribunal found that mention of having received final views of counsel was designed to intentionally mislead.”

It further rejected Mr Jones’s contention that Client A’s son had misunderstood him, once more finding he had been dishonest.

There were no exceptional circumstances to justify a sanction other than a strike-off, the SDT concluded.

Mr Jones was struck off and ordered to pay costs just shy of £10,000.

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