A solicitor who told his new employer he needed to serve a month’s notice – when in fact he had been dismissed from his old job six months previously – has avoided being struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accepted that Lawrence Peter McCullagh been involved in a ‘perfect storm’ consisting of mental health issues and personal bereavement. The solicitor of more than 20 years had told the tribunal he was in a ‘zombie state’ at the time and asked it to apply exceptional circumstances to his case.
The tribunal ruled that indefinite suspension from the roll, rather than a strike-off, was the just outcome and struck a balance between the harm caused and his ‘compelling’ personal mitigation.
The tribunal heard that in 2015 he submitted a CV to Northamptonshire firm Vincent Sykes & Higham LLP which showed he was presently employed by another firm. In fact he had been dismissed for gross misconduct six months previously.
The tribunal cleared McCullagh of submitting a misleading and inaccurate CV, saying it was plausible that he had not updated it since he had left his last job.
But the tribunal found he had acted dishonestly when he told his prospective employers that he was required to serve a month’s notice. This happened on two occasions, one week apart, after he was called for interviews.
McCullagh said during the first interview that he was unaware of the error on his CV and thought he was being asked generally about firms’ notice periods. During the second interview, he submitted that he interpreted the ‘what’s your notice’ question as being ‘when can you start?’.
The tribunal found his explanation for the first interview ‘contrived’ and said his response during the second interview was misleading.
It was accepted that the impact of medical conditions was very significant, but he was not unable to give an accurate answer to the simple questions posed. While his desire for a month to sort out various issues was understandable, he had achieved this by knowingly providing misleading answers.
McCullagh was indefinitely suspended and ordered to pay £15,000 costs.