A law firm principal who claimed to be scared of losing his job if he admitted a mistake has been struck off for acting dishonestly.
Eliot Lopian, formerly with national firm Gunnercooke LLP, admitted entering other people’s signatures on a title transfer form. He then submitted an application to HM Land Registry which contained information he knew to be untrue.
Lopian, 36 this this year, also admitted telling the purported signatories he was unaware how the form had been executed, when he knew himself he had made the signatures.
The firm has told the Gazette he had no reason to fear losing his job, in spite of any mistakes that were made, and had support around him at all times.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Gunnercooke acted for a property investment and development company in a land sale. Two plots were supposed to be sold separately, but due to an error one of the plots was registered in the wrong name.
In September 2017, Lopian signed a TR1 form in the names of the purchasers to facilitate the transfer, despite not being their representatives or having authority to do so.
In mitigation, not accepted by the SRA, Lopian said he was the only qualified solicitor in his department, so he perceived he was required to work through his holidays, and the property investment company was its only client. He had not made the original error, but had made a similar mistake recently and feared losing both his job and the client. He claimed to be suffering ‘severe stress and strain’ at the time he entered the signatures.
He submitted he had shown remorse and not sought employment in the legal sector since leaving Gunnercooke in August 2018, although he accepted none of his mitigation justified anything other than a strike-off.
The tribunal said Lopian committed ‘serious acts of dishonesty over an extended period which benefitted [him] to the detriment of the purchasers’.
He made an agreed outcome with the SRA, endorsed by the tribunal, to be struck off and to pay £2,500 costs.
In a statement, Gunnercooke said: 'With regards to the mitigation put forward by Mr Lopian, we note that the SRA have not agreed these points and neither do we. Mr Lopian was not the only qualified solicitor within his area of practice. He had a dedicated team to support with the transactional nature of the work, with additional support available if required.
'As such, he was not required to work through his holidays nor was he asked to remain in contact with us whilst on leave. His mistake may have made him fearful of losing the client, but there is no reason to suggest he should have been fearful of his position at Gunnercooke.'