A former law firm principal who accepted she was manifestly incompetent in the running of her business accounts has been suspended for 18 months.
Elizabeth Teresa Gilmour allowed her Manchester firm TPC Solicitors to accumulate more than £213,000 in the office bank account which should have been paid to suppliers.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that this lasted for four years as unpaid professional disbursements were wrongly retained.
Gilmour, a solicitor for almost 33 years, also admitting that she gave incorrect information to the firm’s professional indemnity insurer at renewal time.
The charges against her were amended to include an allegation that manifest incompetence was an aggravating factor, but the Solicitors Regulation Authority agreed to withdraw an allegation that Gilmour’s conduct was reckless.
The tribunal heard the firm had no system for ensuring invoices for professional disbursement were paid, relying on the accounts manager to remember to pay suppliers once the relevant client money had been transferred into the office bank account.
Problems were flagged up in 2017 and 2018 by the firm’s accountant, while providers were also chasing payments. Despite this, Gilmour did not notify the SRA of issues that had been raised as she was required to do as the financial compliance officer.
In mitigation, not agreed by the SRA, Gilmour said no concerns were identified to her by the accounts manager and that her firm’s accountants had not explained what the qualifications on their report had meant.
The shortfall was made good in 2018 by Gilmour and two other principals.
The tribunal acknowledged that Gilmour was a highly experienced solicitor and she had direct control of her firm’s finances, but her conduct was a result of neglect and carelessness rather than any planned course of action. No direct harm was caused.
At the end of her suspension, she will not be allowed to manage a firm or be partner or act as compliance officer. She must also pay £7,600 costs.