Solicitor struck off after overlooking claim

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A solicitor who repeatedly lied to a client’s husband after overlooking the wife’s potential compensation claim has been struck off.

Lisa Dawn Noonan, an assistant solicitor at St Helens firm Rushton Hinchy Solicitors, took instructions from the client in March 2007 in connection with a potential criminal injuries compensation claim relating to a robbery that took place at the client’s home in February that year.

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Following the meeting, Noonan did not open a new matter file and register the claim on the firm’s case management system, according to a judgment published by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

She did not realise the omission until after the second anniversary of the incident, by which date the limitation period for bringing the claim had expired.

Noonan reported the matter via an email to her supervising partner and the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice in March 2014. The matter was then brought to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority by the COLP.

The regulator obtained copies of emails and texts exchanged between Noonan and the client’s husband between November 2009 and March 2014 that showed her making various statements concerning the purported progress of his wife’s claim.

The judgment states that Noonan, who denied dishonesty, did not know why she had not set up a file, and that it was an isolated incident.

‘The respondent stated that when she was on maternity leave she did not have the daily chaos of her working life and had the opportunity to think,’ the judgment says.

‘The respondent rejected the assertion that she had owned up in 2014 because she was backed into a corner by the client. She was not a dishonest person and ironically all her friends would say that she was too honest.’

Speaking on her behalf at the hearing in November, her brother, Steven Noonan, said she had been struggling with personal issues that affected her judgement.

Her office hours, Noonan’s brother added, were 9am-5.30pm, but she stayed later most days, took work home and worked at the weekends. Towards the end of 2009 Noonan had approximately 465 files.

Her brother submitted that she had ‘owned up to what she had done having gained perspective and insight into her behaviour while she was on maternity leave. She might have chosen to cover her tracks and pay off the clients in order to make the claim go away but instead she shared everything with her employer. She resigned from her post and walked away from her career’.

Her brother said Noonan was ‘genuinely sorry and regretful to have her integrity and honesty questioned and to have put her client, her employer and her profession in this position’.

The tribunal said it was prepared to accept that the first exchange with the client’s husband ‘might have been spontaneous’ but exchanges that followed were ‘calculated, planned and part of a sequence over a significant period of time. The repeated lying to the client’s husband constituted a breach of trust’.

The tribunal took into account that Noonan, admitted in 2006, was newly qualified when the misconduct started and that she did not have litigation experience in this particular type of work.

However, dishonesty had been proved, the tribunal said. Noonan ‘persevered in a series of untruthful emails and texts in exchanges with the lay client’s husband. This went to the heart of a solicitor’s duty’.

The tribunal did not find Noonan to be a ‘dishonest person in character but she had perpetrated a series of dishonest acts over a long period’.

The misconduct ‘had not been a moment of madness’, the tribunal added. The ‘very difficult circumstances’ Noonan had experienced in her personal life did not constitute ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

The tribunal ordered Noonan to be struck off the roll and pay costs of £2,276.92.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Something must be done! Anyone working hours like this, with a workload of over 400 files, and trying to have a private, family life is bound to snap sooner or later. But, to quote Lenin, which is not what I usually do BTW, "What is to be done?"

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  • Indeed David, while the individual rightly is no longer in practice I wonder what action the SRA will take against the owners of the firm for what on the face of it is a failure to properly manage / supervise their assistants (including getting her to do work for which she was not properly qualified or experienced)

    400 cases is manifestly an excessive number and indicative of a dysfunctional management.

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  • I don't know if this applies in this case but the pursuit of turnover (we must charge a low fee to attract work) as opposed to the pursuit of profit (we must charge an appropriate hourly rate or fixed fee) is what creates over-burdened, fee earners who are swamped and unsupported by senior management.

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  • The quality of mercy is not one that the SDT seems to possess...

    Assuming it was not a pattern of activity, and just a 'one-off' on one file, then surely we and the public can all accept that everyone is entitled to make such a bad error of judgement early on in a career. Maybe a suspension of a year...

    But striking her off...?

    Meanwhile City firms continue to act for various foreign nationals with very dubious backgrounds, with many gazillions of 'warm' money flooding thru' their client account, with nary a word from the SRA...

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  • A harsh punishment . The firms insurers would compensate the client for what amounts to nothing more than negligence -

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  • Knowing something of this particular firm, my guess is that a great many of this person's caseload were tenuous, ambitious claims with limited supporting evidence.
    As we all know, this is the kind of stuff that gets dumped on inexperienced solicitors. Yet this type of claim is often the most difficult to advance.
    The SRA might usefully have enquired about her workload - it is not just a question of the number of files.
    Management have some responsibility here.
    I do not like this outcome at all. It seems to me the point has been missed.

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  • It sounds like for some time the firm knew what was going on and then for some reason (perhaps she complained about terms and conditions)? The COLP simply took her out of practice.

    I think she should have been far more careful with the attendance notes etc. (and its a salutary lesson to all those young bullied overworked out there)....

    "Spoke to XYZ (Partner), who said it was ok to do ABC and although I was concerned about it and thought it strange behaviour, I did not want to question the authority. When they said that I should lie to my client, I was concerned about it but am inhibited in doing anything about it because I do not want to rely on the whistle blowing legislation)....

    And get the time the dishonesty was encouraged / requested as well.

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  • Get your own file of attendance notes separately filed at home.

    You'll be surprised at home the 'support' of the firm changes.

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