A solicitor has told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that his heavy workload was partly to blame for a mistake that caused a misleading telephone note to appear on file.
Matthew Timothy Sparrow, admitted in 2003, joined the Manchester office of international firm Clyde and Co in 2016, and a month after joining he tried to secure an extension of time on a case. He recorded four days later that the opposition claimant firm had said the extension would not be a problem, and amended this note two weeks later to say the extension had been agreed.
But in fact the claimant firm had made no such concession, and in the meantime a default judgment was made against Sparrow’s client.
Sparrow emailed Birkenhead County Court to say the extension had been agreed, and another Clyde solicitor subsequently made an application to set aside the default judgment based on Sparrow’s note, which was still on the file, the tribunal heard.
It was not until the claimants produced a transcript of the original telephone conversation that the inaccuracy of the note was established, and the matter was settled out of court.
Appearing before the SDT in May, Sparrow, 43 this year, admitted making an untrue statement to the court that an extension had been agreed when this was not the case.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority, prosecuting, accepted the misleading attendance note was a reflection of an ‘inaccurate recollection’ with no suggestion of dishonesty, albeit it was a serious failure and not one a solicitor should have made.
Sparrow submitted his was a ‘simple but serious’ mistake, compounded by amending the telephone attendance note.
In his mitigation, his lawyer said he was a ‘thoroughly decent, family man’ who was under significant pressure at work. On starting at Clyde, he had no background as a defendant solicitor but was immediately given a heavy workload. When he requested his workload be reduced, instead it increased, he submitted.
Sparrow, who resigned within two months of beginning the job and no longer works in the profession, submitted that the nature of the work was process-driven, with little to distinguish one case from another, and mainly low value RTA matters which insurers wanted to settle as quickly as possible. It was felt he probably confused this matter with another case.
The tribunal fined Sparrow £5,000, saying he had been frank and open from the outset and had displayed genuine insight into his conduct. He was also ordered to pay £7,000 costs.
In a statement following publication of the judgment, a Clyde & Co spokesperson said: 'Matthew Sparrow was a solicitor employed on a short term contract in Manchester in 2016. He had left the firm before we identified an isolated issue and reported it to the SRA. As a firm we hold ourselves to the highest professional and ethical standards and expect all of our people to uphold our code of conduct and client service standards.'