A consultant solicitor who arranged for a client to pay a £900 bill into his personal account has been fined £15,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Alexander Zivancevic told the tribunal he had forgotten about the payment from June 2013 and had acted only because he was concerned the client might leave the country without settling the invoice.
Zivancevic, a solicitor for 13 years, was a consultant with London firm Hoffman-Bokaei-Moghimi Solicitors when he was instructed to advise on a housing dispute in March 2013. After the payment was made into his account, he failed to account for the monies until after he left the firm four years later, at which point the managing partner reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The regulator alleged he had acted dishonestly and without integrity, and had intended to retain the money for his own personal gain.
Zivancevic told the tribunal that the client had informed him on a Friday he wanted to settle the matter and intended to relocate to the USA two days later. Due to the time of this message and the immediacy of the situation, he did not have the firm’s client account details to hand and instead gave his own personal account details.
He submitted the request was a 'matter of expediency’ and his failure to account to the firm was an 'oversight’. He had simply forgotten that he had personally received the payment from the client.
The tribunal said it was 'very concerned' by the request from Zivancevic and asserted there were no circumstances in which a solicitor should act in this way. It did not accept it was impractical to notify the firm and found him to have acted without integrity.
The tribunal did not find he acted dishonestly, saying it could not be sure that Zivancevic had not simply forgotten about the payment due to pressures of work and his lack of experience in accounting. It was found he had genuinely believed that due to the pressures of circumstances that, as an interim measure, he was entitled to make the request he did.
In mitigation, the solicitor pointed to his unblemished career to date, the one-off nature of the midconduct and the relatively small amount of money involved. The tribunal accepted this was a one-off episode but said the misconduct was serious and involved an improper payment requested from a client to a personal bank account. Zivancevic was ordered to pay a £15,000 fine and £5,750 costs.