A former partner at international firm Womble Bond Dickinson has been fined £2,000 after admitting that he caused the firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility.
Nigel Timothy Williams helped to arrange payments for non-clients of his former firm Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP and where no service was being provided. This arrangement continued even after Williams left, with his successor also fined for not noticing what was going on for around nine months.
According to a regulatory settlement agreement published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Williams acted for a corporate client on a commercial arrangement and facilitated payments to third parties. The client had instructed Williams to set up payments from three of their own clients who were not linked to the firm. He then caused or allowed the firm to make payments to the client from funds held in escrow accounts.
The matter was reported to the SRA by the firm after two such payments coming to almost £800,000 were identified, where there was no underlying transaction and the firm was not offering any regulated service.
Williams, a solicitor since 1991, admitted causing or allowing unauthorised payments over more than four years and in doing so providing banking facilities. As well as being fined, he also agreed to pay £3,840 costs.
Another solicitor, Simon Mark Pilling, who is still a partner with Womble Bond Dickinson, was also sanctioned for allowing these payments to continue after he joined in 2017.
Pilling said his situation arose after he took over existing arrangements at the firm’s Leeds office when Williams left. He stated – and it was accepted by the SRA – that he believed that as the arrangements had been in place for some time and set up by an experienced partner, that they were compliant and had been authorised by the firm.
Pilling accepted he should have interrogated the history of the account and ensured that arrangements were compliant, and he greatly regretted that this was not done. As soon as he was made of the issue, he co-operated with the firm’s investigation and approved the firm’s report to the SRA.
Pilling was fined £1,000 and must also pay £3,840 costs.
The firm itself was rebuked in April after making a settlement agreement with the SRA. Womble Bond Dickinson blamed the actions of an individual former partner who set up bank accounts outside its central finance function.