Womble Bond partners fined over client account failures

WBD: Banking facility

A former partner at transatlantic firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) has been fined for using the firm’s client account as a banking facility, as has a current partner who unwittingly took over after he left.

It follows the firm itself being rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the summer for what appears to be the same matter.

Nigel Timothy Williams, who qualified in 1991 and left the firm in January 2018, was fined £2,000, with Simon Mark Pilling, who qualified in 1992, fined £1,000.

According to regulatory settlement agreements published yesterday by the SRA, Mr Williams acted for a corporate client (‘Client A’) on a commercial arrangement for which WBD was appointed to set up escrow accounts to which representatives of the firm were signatories.

This was on behalf of three individual clients of Client A, who were not themselves WBD clients and who deposited funds into those accounts.

On the instruction of Client A and the three individuals, over more than four years Mr Williams “caused or allowed” WBD to make payments from time to time to Client A from the funds held in the escrow accounts, totalling £168,000 and €688,000.

There was no underlying transaction or any other regulated service to justify the payments. This meant Mr Williams was providing a banking facility to Client A, the SRA said. Mr Williams accepted he broke SRA rules.

Mr Pilling took over after Mr Williams left and allowed payments of £27,770 and €77,868 to be made.

The SRA accepted that Mr Pilling believed the arrangements were compliant and had been authorised by the firm, as they had been in place “for some time” and set up by an experienced partner.

The solicitor accepted that “he should have interrogated the history of the account and ensured that the arrangements were compliant and greatly regrets that he did not do so”.

The SRA acknowledged that, as soon as Mr Pilling was made aware of the issue, “he co-operated fully with the firm’s investigation and approved the firm’s report to the SRA” in April 2018.

Both solicitors agreed to pay the SRA’s costs of £3,840, the same sum the firm paid.

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