A solicitor who continued to practise for 18 months for a firm he knew was unauthorised has been banned from the profession.
Alan O’Doherty, a solicitor working in Surrey, had been reported to the SRA after concerns about letters headed 'GM Law - Solicitors' which further stated the firm was a 'trading style' of another practice. A second report was received from the Financial Conduct Authority asking about the status of GM Law.
One of the original letters, obtained by the SRA, was headed 'GM Law - Solicitors' and further stated 'GM Law is a trading style of Alan O'Doherty who is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority'. The registration number provided was O'Doherty's personal SRA number and not one of an authorised entity.
O'Doherty, who is listed on Companies House as a director of GM Law (New Malden) Limited, accepted that he sent 279 letters on behalf of a debt recovery business client with a letterhead GM Law.
He told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that he believed GM Law was authorised to practise by virtue of his 10% shareholding of another firm, for whom he worked as a consultant and was a director. Work was carried out under the ‘trading style’ of this other firm, he said.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority submitted that O’Doherty’s conduct showed a ‘flagrant disregard’ for the ethical standards required. After the regulator was alerted to the issue by the firm in which O'Doherty was a director, a review of the authorisations register found GM Law had never been authorised as a single entity. As a result, the minimum level of professional indemnity insurance was not available for the benefit of clients.
The SRA submitted that O’Doherty was ‘fully aware’ of his obligation to be authorised and he knew he could not provide legal services as a sole practitioner or under the umbrella of his other firm as a trading style. This knowledge was assumed particularly because he had been the compliance officer for his other firm.
The tribunal concluded that O’Doherty carried out activities as a solicitor for the one client under the name GM Law, which had never been authorised by the SRA in its own right and was never a trading style of the other firm.
The tribunal said the public expected and trusted solicitors to provide accurate information as to their authorisation status, and it was satisfied that knowingly misrepresenting this status was dishonest. O’Doherty’s conduct had ‘sought to convey an appearance of authorisation when in fact there was none’.
The tribunal added: ‘[O’Doherty] deliberately orchestrated the framework within which GM Law operated with apparent authorisation; as such his conduct [was] deliberate, planned and repeated over a protracted period of time.’
O’Doherty was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.