A long-serving law firm cashier has been barred from the sector after using the client account to pay staff and cover other business expenses.
Gareth Evans, an employee of former Hertfordshire entity Susan Hall & Co, made 70 payments from the client account over more than five years to cover staff salaries. In total he paid out more than £1.5m, before replacing the money from the office account either the same day or within 27 days.
An SRA regulatory agreement notice stated that Evans also made 46 payments totalling £26,000 for conveyancing software fees and 72 payments worth £61,000 to cover bank charges.
The software fees were repaid, again from the office account, within 35 days, while the bank charges were paid back within 72 days.
The firm he worked for has since ceased trading and a separate entity has been founded under different management.
The notice stated that Evans, who had been with Susan Hall & Co for 10 years, had access to the firm’s client and office bank accounts and was able to make payments and transfers from them – supervised by principal and compliance officer Susan Hall.
The SRA said Hall had signed a direct debit mandate for payments relating to conveyancing software fees to come from the client account because she wrongly believed they were overheads for which clients were responsible.
Evans did not tell Hall that client money was being used for firm-related expenses and did not take steps to ensure they were paid from the office account.
The SRA said Hall had made admissions in relation to her conduct and accepts full responsibility for how the firm handled client money during the period from 2012 to 2017.
Evans was made subject to a section 43 order which stops him working for any other regulated entity without SRA permission. He submitted in his own mitigation, taken into account by the SRA, that the system for salary payments was incorrectly set up but he did not know how to rectify the issue, having no formal training and no prior experience of working as a legal cashier. No client suffered and all improper transfers were corrected before he left the firm due to ill-health.
He must also pay the £300 costs of the SRA investigation.
In a statement, Susan Hall & Co Solicitors Limited said: 'Susan Hall & Co ceased trading on 4 March 2019. Susan Hall & Co Solicitors Limited is a separate legal entity authorised by the SRA and managed by persons other than Susan Hall, who retired from practice in May 2019. Susan Hall & Co Solicitors Limited employ an experienced legal cashier.’