A newly qualified solicitor left in charge of a Halifax firm while her boss recovered from an assault has been issued with a rebuke after the firm was apparently targeted by scammers.
Madiya Ahmed Arshad had been a solicitor for less than a year and had no experience of conveyancing matters when two suspicious transactions led to cash shortages on the client account of Arrans Solicitors in Halifax.
Arshad took charge in December 2017 when Arrans’ sole manager and shareholder, Martin Keith Waters, suffered an assault requiring hospital treatment and a period of convalescence. She was the only employed solicitor at the firm.
The transactions, which gave rise to a total client account shortage of nearly £400,000, were undertaken by a paralegal, Ms S, under Arshad’s supervision.
In the first, Arrans was instructed by Client A in the sale of a property for £185,000. All but £500 of the purchase money was paid out of the law firm’s client account in four payments to accounts purporting to be in the name of Client A, his wife and his daughter.
Arshad authorised the third and fourth payments. However, these could not have been made on the instructions of Client A and disbursed to both client A and his wife because by that time both had died.
There was no record of who authorised the first two payments.
In the second transaction, Arrans was instructed by Client B to act in the sale of a property for £200,000. The following month all but £25 of the purchase money was paid out in four payments all authorised by Arshad.
HM Land Registry refused to register the transfer. Documents indicated that the identification document held by the firm for Client B was forged, and that the signature on that identification document did not match that which appeared on the transfer deed of the property.
Following an SRA investigation in 2018, Arshad confirmed she had no experience of conveyancing matters and did not ask to review the firm’s files before authorising the payments in issue. She relied on the explanations of Ms S.
Issuing Arshad with a rebuke, the SRA accepted her involvement in the transactions was motivated by a desire to help Waters, clients and other staff. Her conduct was not motivated by dishonesty, and she did not display a lack of integrity or a reckless disregard of her obligations.
The money improperly disbursed was replaced, though not for several months.
Arshad was also ordered to pay £600 costs.