A senior partner whose firm withheld disbursements from professional suppliers for months and even years has been suspended.
Jayne Louise Greer, senior partner at former Manchester practice Dennison Greer, admitted allowing her firm’s office bank account to run up a minimum cash shortage of almost £80,000, caused by unpaid disbursements payable to counsel and expert witnesses.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard the firm would have ‘significantly exceeded’ its overdraft facility had all the unrepresented cheques been presented for payment and paid in 2016/17.
SRA investigators contacted five service providers, including chambers, counsel and medical experts, and an expert engineer, finding 26 matters where costs were paid into the firm’s client account from a third-party insurer but not immediately sent on within the required two days.
The firm’s ledgers showed that cheques would appear to have been issued, cancelled and reissued, sometimes over several months and in some instances over several years before payment was made to counsel or the expert.
Although the non-payment issue was not known to her, Greer was the sole equity partner and compliance officer of the firm, making financial decisions and acting as a signatory on the client account.
The tribunal heard that she became aware of the outstanding amount of professional disbursements in April 2016. A year later there were 184 cheques not presented, coming to £61,000, and by June 2017 the shortage was reduced to £7,000.
The tribunal heard that Greer allowed a situation to arise whereby client money was misused, and in doing so failed to run her business effectively and in accordance with financial and risk management principles.
In her mitigation, not endorsed by the SRA, Greer said she relied too much on key personnel in her firm to look after accounting procedures. She was not told about the cheques not being issued by those responsible for maintaining relationships with the firm’s professional suppliers. She apologised to the SRA and tribunal for her oversight.
Greer, a solicitor for more than 12 years, made an agreed outcome with the SRA that she be suspended for a year and pay £15,000 costs. These sanctions were approved by the tribunal.