A sole practitioner who transferred almost £300,000 from the client account to the office account – pretending the sums were for work carried out – has been struck off.
Michael Collier, who operated from York firm Collier Law, admitted making improper transfers over almost eight years in respect of eight client matters. The monies were used for his own business and personal interests.
Collier, a solicitor for almost 25 years, said he was ‘profoundly sorry’ for his conduct and insisted he only ever intended to shore up his firm’s office account termporarily, but events overtook him and he could not put matters right.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Collier and the Solicitors Regulation Authority had reached agreement on his misconduct, with the practitioner admitting the allegations against him, including dishonesty.
Collier moved sums of up to £102,000 purportedly in payment for costs or fees incurred on probate work. In fact he did not send invoices or written notification of costs to clients because the work had not been carried out.
When the SRA began investigating his conduct in 2018, Collier told the regulator he was not aware of any misuse of client funds. He changed this account during interview, saying he had been ‘scared’ and ‘ashamed’.
The regulatory agreement stated that Collier produced false estate accounts in order to mislead anyone reviewing these documents. His initial false representation to the SRA was designed to hide his actions, as he knew the consequences for his career.
Collier said he was motivated not by personal gain but a ‘desire to keep the firm in business so that he could continue to provide a service’.
He has been made bankrupt but said he is committed to repaying the sums still owed to beneficiaries. To date, he has replaced £59,100 of the £291,655 improperly transferred.
The tribunal found no exceptional circumstances that could warrant anything but a strike-off. Collier must also pay £19,219 in costs.