A law firm director failed to notice his employee was misappropriating funds and misled regulators about the firm holding client money, a tribunal has found.
James O’Connor, sole director of Preston-based Barrington Lewis Law Ltd, also told indemnity insurers and the Solicitors Regulation Authority that his firm practised only personal injury work, when in fact it was involved in a number of other areas. He was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a three-day hearing in April.
In addition to dishonesty, O’Connor also admitted failing to prevent one of the firm’s solicitors from misappropriating £140,000 from monies held in the client account. The solicitor in question, Giles Guy Robertson, was struck off at the same hearing.
The tribunal heard that the firm, which operated in Lancashire and Bedfordshire, did not submit accountants’ reports to the SRA for seven consecutive years before it was shut down by the regulator in 2016.
Supervision of funds by O’Connor, a solicitor for 22 years, was said by the SRA to be ‘wholly lacking’. The tribunal found he left branch offices ‘to their own devices’ as long as he received payment from them, and had no control over the staff.
‘He left them to carry out work with little if any supervision,’ said the tribunal. ‘Whilst he undertook supervision of some files, and made some visits to the offices, he paid very little attention to the finances of the subsidiary offices. His main concern was that he received monies from those offices each month.’
O’Connor denied acting dishonestly in his dealings with insurers and regulators, but the tribunal found he ‘knowingly and deliberately’ included incorrect and information on forms submitted to both.
In his mitigation, O’Connor stated he had been a victim of a ‘clever and consummate lier’ in Robertson. The SRA made no allegation of missing monies from any of the other offices he oversaw, and could cite no client complaints about the standard and conduct of work.
Robertson, a solicitor for almost six years, did not appear at the hearing and consented to being struck off the roll. The tribunal said he was motivated by financial gain and had breached the trust placed in him to safeguard client monies.
The tribunal imposed joint costs of almost £57,000, with Robertson ordered to pay an extra £616.