A solicitor who repeatedly transferred funds from client to office account before sending out bills has been rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The regulator said it identified nine matters where Benjamin Saunders, formerly with Irwin Michell, had moved the money before the client had seen the bill. There was either a delay in the bill being sent or the bill was not sent at all, while in most cases the costs were transferred on the date the bill was raised.
The bills totalled £60,000 and were raised between 2014 and 2017. The shortest delay in sending the bill after the costs were transferred was five days, but in other cases the bill was only sent once the firm discovered the issue, and in one case it took almost three years to send the bill after payment was taken.
In one matter, the client complained to the firm, with Irwin Mitchell resolving the complaint by writing off two of the bills.
In an agreed outcome, Saunders admitted failing to act in the best interests of his clients and failing to provide a proper standard of service.
He said in mitigation that he had fallen behind with his work due to a large caseholding and had overlooked administrative tasks as a result. Bills had been prepared based on costs estimates already sent to the clients, and so Saunders considered the amounts transferred to be rightly due. He pointed out no other complaints had been made about his work, and he had learned from his mistakes to ensure that bills are appropriately sent.
The SRA said a written rebuke was an appropriate outcome to mark the ‘moderate’ seriousness of Saunders’ conduct but also recognise there was no lasting or significant harm to clients. There was no suggestion of the work not having been undertaken or of overcharging and the bills were all within the cost estimates sent to clients. Saunders must also pay £600 in costs.