A veteran solicitor who gave up control of his practice to two unvetted individuals admitted to the Solicitors Regulation Authority he ‘didn’t give a monkey's’ about his business by the end.
Michael Kenneth Smith, 71 this year, was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after his firm attracted dozens of complaints from clients and caused £13,000 to be paid from the compensation fund.
Smith, admitted in 1976, founded Smiths Law in Shropshire in 2013 and told the SRA the firm would be a small, bespoke firm. It changed its name to Legacy Law Solicitors in 2015 and moved practising address to a site in Birmingham before closing in 2017.
Within four months of closing, the SRA received 30 reports from clients or third parties, many of them elderly, and the regulator intervened. Investigators found offices had been repossessed with almost £12,000 owed in arrears. Smith would later confirm that up to 70 wills had gone missing along with computers containing confidential client information.
Smith said the firm was more of a hobby to him and he wanted to retire. But, having initially made full and frank admissions, Smith had then told the tribunal in a witness statement that the firm had failed due to the premeditated misconduct of two former colleagues, one of whom was a qualified solicitor. He said admissions made to SRA investigators about his hands-off approach to running the firm were made through ‘entrapment’.
The tribunal said it was clear from Smith’s interview with investigators that he considered he had lost control of the firm and that the immigration department, bolted on following the recruitment of the two individuals, was being run without any governance.
By his own admission, Smith turned a ‘blind eye’ to how the firm was being run, which allowed an unauthorised branch office to be opened. It was found he lacked integrity in his attitude to controlling the firm and was in no position to supervise those carrying out immigration work. The tribunal also found that Smith failed to protect client money and assets.
His motivation, said the tribunal, was ‘simply that he wanted to retire and no longer cared about the firm or his obligations’.
Smith was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £13,547 costs.