A solicitor who failed in his undertaking to help facilitate a property transfer – then hiked his hourly rate tenfold to £450 when the transaction threatened to go wrong – acted unreasonably, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has found.
Waheed Rahman, of Swindon firm Legal Companion Solicitors, pursued an ‘obstructive’ course of conduct, increasing his charge for additional work from his initial estimate of £190, to an invoiced charge of £4,459.
The tribunal found Rahman sought to take unfair advantage of the party being charged, undermining public trust in him and the wider profession. He was suspended from practice for six months but his penalty was suspended for two years. Indefinite conditions were placed on his practising certificate and he must pay £15,000 costs.
The tribunal heard that Rahman, a solicitor for 10 years, acted for his client in a transfer of equity and re-mortgage, with a licensed conveyancing firm acting for the building society involved in the transaction. When that firm made a mistake over piece of administrative work, Rahman notified it about the error but acted to prevent them from registering anything. He then invoiced the firm for ‘legal fees’ requesting payment before he would act to allow registration.
Rahman, representing himself, denied acting improperly and submitted a 54-page document to the tribunal which included wide-ranging counter allegations. He said the other firm had made 15 mistakes in the run-up to completion and he was acting in his own client’s best interests. He had not intended to prevent registration of the legal charge, but was concerned to prevent the other firm registering what he regarded as deficient and inaccurate documents.
The tribunal said Rahman was professionally obliged to comply with the terms of his undertaking, and it was unreasonable to threaten to refuse to deal with another regulated firm. While some proportionate charge for additional work was reasonable, the level of fees and absence of meaningful explanation was not.
The tribunal noted the ‘extremely positive’ character references offered in mitigation, Rahma’s compliance with SRA instructions, and unblemished record.