The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has explained its decision to make no order against a ‘conscientious trainee solicitor’ who billed for work that she had not done.
Michelle Louise Craven was accused of dishonesty and a lack of integrity by the regulator after she recorded time for work she had not yet completed in the final seat of her training contract at MLP Law Limited. The Solicitors Regulation Authority also alleged that her actions did not uphold public trust.
However, the tribunal found that Craven was a 'diligent but inexperienced individual’ who became ‘overwhelmed’ by her workload.
'Once the context was understood, a conscientious trainee solicitor who had failed to complete work as she had intended, who had had no issues with time recording in previous seats, and for whom problems had arisen in a particularly busy period in a small team in which some limited and poorly defined degree of anticipated billing was tolerated, was not conduct which would offend Principle 6 or undermine public trust,’ the tribunal concluded.
It added that a ‘lack of training’ had contributed to Craven's belief that anticipatory billing was acceptable, and said it believed that she had genuinely intended to complete the work that she had recorded.
The tribunal imposed no sanction against Craven and made no order. However, she was asked to pay costs of £3,000.
Earlier this year, the Junior Lawyers Division said it had lost confidence in the SRA to fairly prosecute young solicitors under intense pressure at work, and demanded an immediate review in its approach to handling junior lawyers who report mental health issues or a toxic working environment.
The criticism follows the high-profile prosecution of recently-qualified Claire Matthews, who lied to cover her mistake of leaving sensitive documents on a train. Matthews was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal but has given notice she will appeal, supported by lawyers working pro bono.