Partner struck off for ‘web of deception’ about case progress

Topics: Regulation and compliance,Litigation

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A solicitor with almost 30 years of unblemished practice has been struck off for misleading his client about the progress of a land dispute with a neighbour.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Adrian Harling appeared to have a ‘misplaced desire to protect’ his client and to steer him away from what he saw as costly litigation.

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Harling, managing partner at Kidderminster firm Painters Solicitors, developed an email trail over 15 months in which he invented telephone calls to and from the court and referred to adopting a vacated court date that never existed, the tribunal heard. 

The solicitor, who had an unblemished record since qualifying in 1987, asked for leniency on the grounds that he was not a risk to the public and had the full support of partners at his firm.

But the tribunal said Harling had used a ‘web of deception’ to avoid litigation and should have been honest with the client about the prospects of success.

‘[Harling] had created a story which was entirely dishonest and misleading to his client,’ said the tribunal. ‘[His] emails become more elaborate and were further embellished as time went on. This was deeply unattractive from any solicitor, particularly one of [Harling’s] seniority and standing.’

The tribunal heard that Harling, 54, came to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority after a report from the Legal Ombudsman following a complaint.

A number of documents were submitted covering email exchanges between the solicitor and his client from January 2012 to April 2013.

Harling told his client he was due to be given a court date the following day, that he had received three missed calls from the listings office, and that the case had been listed but he did not know the exact date.

It was only when the client investigated the progress of the case that he discovered it was not currently listed and had not been listed for previous dates.

Harling accepted that he had breached professional obligations to act with integrity but said he genuinely believed he was serving his client’s best interests, having advised as far back as February 2008 that land dispute cases were difficult to win.

The solicitor said he had been worried about the financial implications of the dispute on the client, and had been trying to ‘divert’ him to the mediation process during the period of the email exchanges. Harling added he was ‘extremely sorry and considerably embarrassed’ by his conduct.

The tribunal said the ‘sustained and developing deception’ over a long period of time was an aggravating factor in his case. It rejected Harling’s assertion he was protecting his client and said the delay could have weakened his position.

As well as striking him off, the tribunal ordered Harling to pay £2,973 in costs.

Readers' comments (17)

  • '....had created a story which was entirely dishonest and misleading to his client.' The SDT should remember it's words when solicitors come before it for 'borrowing' from clients to fund fantasy schemes such as PI claims. One case in particular due to be heard this year comes to mind. If poor Mr Harling cops a strike off for putting one foot wrong in an otherwise unblemished career, what should a solicitor who concocts a story and steals large sums from pensioner clients receive? Crucifixion?

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  • Odd post Anonymous 4 January 2016 08:23 pm. In what circumstances do solicitors "borrow" from clients to fund PI schemes? Genuine question.

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  • Anon of 8.56pm. In what circumstances? In 2008/2009 to fund the claims process from start to finish with working capital including salaries, rent, IT, etc for maybe 6 months. If genuine of course not fantasy.

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  • Four thoughts strike me on reading this story.

    The first is that this is the only reasonable outcome. The second is that this clearly speaks of a man who for whatever reason embarked upon a - possibly unplanned - course of action that was not only clearly profoundly wrong but also conspicuously inexplicable. The third is that this is likely to have become both self-perpetuating and increasingly psychologically injurious. The fourth arises from the second and third, and is an overwhelming sense of frustration and sadness that an evidently intelligent person did not at an earlier stage blow the whistle on himself and seek help. Why didn't he stop digging?

    Terribly, terribly sad.

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  • He didn't stop digging, Anon 10.44, because he couldn't once he had started. It is like teaming and lading, you bring the matter out into the open once you stop. Bernard Madoff is the classic example.

    I have two questions. First, did he really otherwise have an unblemished career? And why did he have his partners' full support? He certainly would not have had mine, on the contrary I would have felt personally badly let down by him.

    It seems to me that some solicitors are getting as bad as MPs, bankers, etc in being unable to distinguish right from wrong.

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  • Every firm should have a 'mental block' buddy system - where you can offload a mental-block problem file onto a work colleague (and without any recriminations) for 2 weeks to get it back into order...

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  • I once helped a senior partner in a well respected firm who had a mental block about a particular case and I saved him from disaster in his chosen profession - that was in the days when the practise of law was professional of course

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  • This man let down his partners, his profession, his family, but worst of all his client. And he did so over a prolonged period of time, by lying to his client, by faking emails to support those lies, etc., etc. Come on, that's a whole lot worse than a mental block. And anyway his mitigation was that he intended to protect his client from his own folly. Mental blocks are when you just don't know what to do next. But this behaviour was, on his own admission, intentional, contrived and actively pursued and over a considerable period of time. Come on, that's pretty well indefensible..

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  • As a client in a straightforward case with liability quickly admitted, , lied to, misled then intimidated with threats of law suit for a nebulous £10000 in fees to frighten me off, I refused an insulting offer from the LO (2 hours fees ) so I could sue privately.
    How do I get realistic compensation and closure for the hell he put me through?
    Apparently I have to have suffered FINANCIAL loss - all the worry, aggravation and havoc in my life counts for nought.

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  • If this man had his partners' support, if they would have kept an eye on his future work, and if clients would have continued to instruct him, why cannot the SDT show some mercy. This man's life is now wrecked. He cannot conduct litigation. What can he do?

    One might say that a solicitor who cheats on their spouse is untrustworthy. Who could trust their word? So far, that has not become a striking off offence.

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