A solicitor fined for entering the wrong client name on a court form has said he was simply too stretched to check for his mistake. John Mackenzie, 44, was an associate at top 50 firm BLM in July 2011 when he gave notice to the court that he was acting on behalf of four defendants in an industrial disease case each insured by his insurer client Zurich.
In fact, he had made a mistake on the initial document as he did not have instructions from one defendant. He continued to conduct litigation for nearly three years even though the defendant was not covered by Zurich.
Mackenzie told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday that he realised the mistake only in March 2014. He admitted several minor charges in relation to his mistake and agreed that he had failed to act in the best interests of his client.
But the Solicitors Regulation Authority, prosecuting, went further and alleged Mackenzie had failed to act with integrity when he then settled costs of £6,500 as part of delegated powers granted by Zurich – even though by that stage it was clear the firm had not insured the defendant.
The tribunal ruled none of the contested allegations could be substantiated and fined Mackenzie £8,000 with £12,000 costs.
Mackenzie, who moved to top 50 firm Kennedys in July 2014, admitted his initial mistake but said he thought he was acting in Zurich’s best interests by trying to settle the case as quickly as possible.
Pressed on why he had not noticed or flagged up the wrong name on the court document, despite emails from a colleague and from claimant lawyers questioning his instructions, he told the tribunal it was ‘frankly impossible’ to go through each of his 90 live files in sufficient detail.
‘The situation my former employer put me in was that, with that much work, mistakes of that type were not only likely they were inevitable,’ he said. ‘I was not in a situation to make good decisions. I should have sat down and taken more care with it and for that I am sorry, but spending an hour and a half on that file would simply mean I make a mistake on a different file.’
Mackenzie accepted the decision to settle for an insurer who was no longer acting for the defendant was illogical, but he gave evidence to say he was suffering from illness which has since been fully diagnosed and is being treated.
The SRA dropped all allegations of dishonesty and of acting recklessly, but insisted Mackenzie's settlement of a claim that his client did not even know existed amounted to a lack of integrity. In relation to his initial mistake, Mackenzie admitted charges of not acting in his client’s best interests, not providing a proper standard of service and not behaving in a way that would maintain public trust in the profession.
After the hearing, a spokesperson for BLM said: 'John Mackenzie was a lawyer at BLM for almost 10 years. During that time he had regular one to one meetings with his supervising partner to discuss relevant matters, including his caseload and the progress of his cases.
'In his leaving interview, John made it clear that his workload was 'mostly fair' and that he was leaving BLM for a promotion at another firm, offering him an increased salary. It is very important to us that our colleagues are able to effectively manage their workloads and action will always be taken should this not be the case.'