A solicitor who helped to arrange for a vulnerable woman to sell a property at £250,000 below market value has been struck off.
Julia Cooper, admitted in 1993, practised under the name of J Cooper Solicitors in Bow, east London. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that she drafted the sale agreement knowing that no legal advice had been sought and that she had not advised the woman to seek such advice. She also knew it was improper for her to draft a will for the woman, who died last year, when Cooper herself was the sole beneficiary and sole executor.
Cooper told the tribunal that her own kindness had ‘led her astray’ and she had supported the woman over many years, collecting her shopping and paying bills.
But the tribunal found she had taken advantage of someone described by Cooper as ‘frail’ and sought to conceal her conduct. Cooper was motivated by financial gain and her actions were planned, it was concluded. ‘[She] had acted in flagrant breach of the trust placed in her by her elderly client,’ said the judgment.
The tribunal heard it was not disputed that Cooper drafted, witnessed and ‘stamped’ a property sale agreement between the woman (who had instructed Cooper on a probate matter) and her own civil partner. The sale price for this property was detailed as £200,000, but by the time of the attempted purchase, Cooper was aware that the property had been valued at £450,000.
The tribunal said the facts showed that Cooper facilitated the purchase and was involved in the instruction of other solicitors for both the woman and her civil partner.
Cooper argued that as no file was open and no payment had been received, the woman was not her client. But the tribunal found clear evidence that she was acting as the woman’s solicitor. Cooper herself had referred to the woman as her client on ‘numerous occasions’.
Cooper denied misconduct over the will and said it was an expression of the woman’s wishes, even if it would have been preferable for someone else to draft it. The tribunal said that Cooper’s assertion that the document was intended to be temporary was ‘incredible’ and that she was clearly acting where there was a conflict of interests.
The tribunal added: ‘Members of the profession would not expect a solicitor to prepare a will where they were the sole beneficiary and executor without ensuring that independent advice had been received. This was the case even if the testator was adamant about the terms of the will and was anxious for the will to be drafted and executed.’
Cooper was struck off and ordered to pay £45,000 costs.