The solicitor who headed Bolton personal injury firm Coops Law – which bought controversial practice Asons – has been suspended for the way it took on 6,000 files without clients’ permission.
The decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in the case of Munir Majid has shed light on how Coops Law was established just before Asons was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in March 2017.
Coops itself was closed down by the regulator less than three months later.
The SDT said Coops “did little or no work prior to the closing of Asons and it was believed that it was set up as a means to frustrate any potential SRA action against Asons and/or to prevent Asons’ funds from going to its creditors”.
A man called ‘IA’ in the ruling – almost certainly Irfan Akram, brother of Asons boss Kamran Akram – was described as the non-lawyer beneficial owner of Coops, which was an alternative business structure.
The SDT recorded that, during an interview, IA insisted that his purchase of Asons was not done to frustrate the intervention, but the SRA identified seven common features with Coops.
These were that both traded from the same premises, employed the same fee-earners, worked on the same files and undertook the same kind of work, employed the same accounts department, had access to the same case management system, and were owned by brothers.
Further, Mr Majid, who was Coops’ head of legal practice and sole lawyer manager, had previously been head of industrial disease at Asons.
The solicitor, who qualified in 2006, accepted a six-month suspension in an agreed outcome with the SRA that was approved by the tribunal.
This said that on, 14 March 2017, Kamran Akram received an SRA report recommending intervention into Asons so that he could make representations.
On 22 March, Coops engaged solicitors to advise on buying Asons’ assets and work in progress, which they were told needed to be done within two days.
On 23 March, even though Asons had not obtained clients’ authorities to transfer their files to Coops, the sale and purchase agreement was signed, with the price put at £230,000.
On 24 March, Asons went into liquidation and the SRA intervened on 30 March.
Mr Majid admitted that he caused or allowed: the transfer of the 6,000 files despite the lack of any or adequate prior authority; Coops staff to access confidential client details from Asons’ database without the prior knowledge or consent of those clients; and undue pressure to be placed on clients, such that they were asked to provide authority “urgently” when in fact there was no urgency.
This showed a lack of integrity, he agreed.
He further admitted failing to ensure clients were given sufficient information to enable them to make an informed choice about whether or not to instruct Coops,
In addition, Mr Majid caused or allowed nearly £600,000 of funds belonging to Asons’ clients to be transferred into Coops’ client account, again with authority; of this, £132,000 in costs and £35,000 in disbursements was transferred to the firm’s office account.
The solicitor acknowledged that he failed to carry out adequate due diligence before or after accepting his role at Coops because he did not check the firm’s authorisation documents.
As a result, he did not realise Coops had breached a condition attached to its licence which prevented it from accepting paid referral fees from a claims management company belonging to IA.
The SDT said Mr Majid acted in breach of a position of trust and bore a “significant level of responsibility for the circumstances giving rise to the misconduct, albeit not sole responsibility”.
But it was also satisfied that there had been no identifiable loss to clients. Further, Mr Majid had no beneficial interest in Coops, other than his salary, and while he was responsible for the accounts rule breaches, “he had very little involvement with the operation of firm’s bank accounts”.
Mr Majid “had relied on other members of staff. He had shown contrition”.
Nonetheless, his actions were “a serious departure from the integrity and probity expected of a solicitor”.
There was a need to protect the reputation of the profession by removing Mr Majid’s ability to practise for a period of time, but the conduct was not so serious as to warrant striking him off.
Mr Majid also agreed to pay costs of £18,000, of which £11,000 was 50% contribution to the fixed fee charged by the SRA’s external solicitors, Capsticks.
Last July, Kamran Akram was suspended for 18 months.