A solicitor who fabricated eight backdated letters in one day has been banned from practising. Claire Margaret Wheeler, who was 27 at the time of the misconduct, attempted to give the impression the letters had been sent weeks before to a client and various third parties.
In fact they were all created on the client file during the afternoon and evening of 10 February 2014, with metadata records showing letters were printed that day.
A further investigation found nine client matters over a two-and-a-half-year period where Wheeler had fabricated or backdated letters to conceal her lack of progress on cases or her failure to send key documents such as a client care letter.
Wheeler, the only family solicitor at the Lincoln office of northeast firm Bridge McFarland Solicitors, had said she was working up to 14 hours a day and created files on a personal email account. She claimed to have a 'vast workload’ and denied ever creating false letters.
The tribunal found her explanation to be dishonest and stressed there was no evidence to show she had been inadequately supervised, even accounting for her relative inexperience.
'The harm to the reputation of the profession and the firm's reputation was significant,' said the tribunal in its judgment published last week. 'The firm had had to write to clients, other firms of solicitors, medical professionals and the court to establish the true position and this would invariably have caused reputational damage.'
The tribunal heard that Wheeler took steps to cover her misconduct, including deleting her internet history for 'last week' in February 2014, but leaving her history for the previous weeks visible.
Despite one letter being dated 22 January, the firm's time recording log did not show any time recorded for correspondence on that date.
Natalie Thomas, a risk partner at the firm, said Wheeler had an 'average caseload' for family work and was not under the level of pressure she would have the tribunal believe. The tribunal heard the firm had an 'open door policy, did not discipline or beat with a stick' and would encourage staff to speak up if there was a problem.
A former colleague told the tribunal that Wheeler had been let down by her firm and was subject to bullying in a disciplinary meeting. The SRA submitted that 'no real weight' should be attributed to witnesses who had not worked with her at the time.
The tribunal struck off Wheeler and ordered that she pay £32,373 in costs.