A law firm principal has been rebuked by the SRA after lack of supervision allowed a consultant solicitor on its books to commit repeated misconduct.
Emma Nicole Reese, from Borehamwood firm Rexton Law LLP, accepted she failed to adequately supervise her colleague after giving an undertaking in May 2014 that he would not carry out any further work on behalf of Lloyds Banking Group.
The bank had threatened to remove the firm from its conveyancing panel based on disciplinary proceedings faced by the rogue consultant, and indeed did so following a review in March 2015 which found he acted on a number of transactions since the undertaking.
She told the tribunal she and other members of the firm were ‘deceived’ by an experienced solicitor who concealed what was going on from them.
SRA investigators later found irregularities in several conveyancing matters where this consultant was the fee earner: in all cases there was an absence of client care letters, outgoing costs information and due diligence.
In two of the transactions it was noted that the price of the property being sold increased significantly within a short space of time, without any explanation on the client matter file. In these matters it was identified that the consultant appeared to have conducted work for the buyer, the seller and other parties. He appeared before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in March 2015 and was found to be dishonest and suspended for two years.
According to a regulatory settlement agreement published by the SRA, Reese was unaware her colleague was the subject of an ongoing investigation and did not know he had been referred to the SDT. The eventual finding that he was dishonest was over the concealment of matters from Reese.
The firm had policies and procedures in place at all times to prevent breaches of SRA rules, but they relied upon trust between Reese, her staff and consultants. While she believed compliance was being achieved, further protocols have now been implemented as a result of the investigation.
Reese pleaded in mitigation there were no indications that her colleague was posing a problem, and he brought with him an established client base when he joined Rexton Law after 17 years with his previous firm. She regrets these matters occurred and recognised her responsibility to ensure compliance and supervise fee earners.
Reese must pay the £10,725 costs of the investigation.