A former law firm director whose firm withheld £192,000 in counsel fees - as well as £94,000 in others unpaid charges - has been struck off the roll of solicitors. Paul Dumbleton, a director with now-defunct Cardiff firm Beech Jones, oversaw cash transfers from client to office account for the settlement of unpaid professional disbursements, but they were not then paid to the intended recipient.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the firm’s legal cashier had reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Cheques were written but not sent out and the client ledger would wrongly indicate that the disbursement had been paid.
The practice became common, it was heard, when the firm started to experience cashflow problems in June 2014 and at one point its overdraft facility was being reduced by £10,000 a month.
Beech Jones had started trading in September 2011 but Dumbleton unexpectedly left in October 2014 and the firm entered liquidation and closed a month later.
Dumbleton, 60 this year, denied to the tribunal that he had instructed anyone to withhold payment of disbursements and he was not aware of any shortage on the client account. He explained that fee earners did not need to seek his approval before paying disbursements, and the cashier was also authorised to pay professional fees without recourse to him.
The tribunal said there had been no cross purposes in discussions between Dumbleton and his cashier and that it was not credible he was confused about the status of monies.
Dumbleton, it was found, had directed that funds be transferred to the office account and cheques retained rather than sent. The tribunal found the solicitor of 30 years knew his actions were dishonest: Dumbleton was an experienced practitioner who was aware of the rules and that he was breaching them.
Its judgment added: [His] actions were planned and were in breach of his position of trust as the custodian of client monies. ‘He had direct control and entirely responsible for the circumstances. He was an experienced and senior solicitor, who understood the rules and the sacrosanct nature of client monies.’
The tribunal heard that Dumbleton had already spent £84,000 defending himself against the allegations. He was further order to pay SRA costs of £31,000.