A solicitor whose firm was ‘crippled’ by personal injury fee cuts has been banned for a year over his handling of its closure. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Stephen Deakin had shut his firm in a ‘somewhat shambolic manner’, leaving files at risk and abandoning clients who had a forthcoming hearing. The tribunal said he should have realised matters were spiralling out of control much earlier, but instead he ‘put his head in the sand’.
Deakin, who practised as a sole practitioner from Deakin & Co in Lancashire, was reported to the SRA in 2017 by another firm over an alleged breach of undertaking. This firm had made 20 attempts over seven months to contact Deakin over a costs issue by telephone, email and letter, but with no response.
The SRA then received a letter from another firm representing a medico-legal client who was trying to recoup unpaid invoices from Deakin. After default judgment for £2,255 was found against Deakin, he was adjudged bankrupt but did not notify the SRA.
Deakin, a solicitor for 27 years, explained to the regulator he owed HMRC £60,000 and had attempted to ‘trade himself out of trouble’, having been ‘crippled’ by the PI reforms.
When the SRA’s investigating officer visited the office he found wills and other documents left in an unsecured drawer, 500 archived client files stored in the basement and unopened correspondence left in the office. The SRA intervened in the practice in 2018, collecting post for 29 client matters which had not been transferred to any other practice. Deakin was still delivering documents to the intervention agent more than four months after he was shut down.
The tribunal ruled that Deakin had failed in his legal and regulatory obligations to deal with the regulator in an open, timely and cooperative manner. He failed to effect an orderly and transparent wind-down of his firm and had acted with a lack of integrity.
Deakin, in his own mitigation, apologised unreservedly and stated that his downfall was purely financial, brought on by government cuts to personal injury fees. This hit his business hard and he used all his savings to keep staff employed and pay overheads.
The tribunal banned him for 12 months and barred him from running a firm when that period ends. He must also pay £5,280 costs.