A solicitor whose widower client transferred £75,000 to help pay her debts has been fined £25,000 by a tribunal. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Sabrina Maini's elderly client regarded her as a ‘surrogate daughter’ after she helped him to re-draft a will in 2017.
He then asked for details of her bank account and credit card bills, which she eventually gave him, and he paid the money in instalments over four months.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority was alerted to the payments by a building society and Maini was dismissed from her firm, Leicester practice Rich & Carr Ltd, following a disciplinary meeting.
The tribunal heard that Maini had told the client that her father had been prevented from leaving India for years because of a legal dispute: the client said he wished he could be her father as he and his late wife had always wanted a daughter.
During a telephone conversation the next day, the client asked about her financial position. When he came to her office during her lunch break, she gave details of her liabilities and bank details to stop him asking any more. She said in a prepared statement she asked him not to do anything with the details and he assured her he would not.
The SRA told the tribunal there was no allegation of exploitation of a vulnerable client, and no evidence of vulnerability going beyond a propensity to make substantial and unsolicited gifts to others. Maini, a solicitor since 2004, admitted misconduct only on the basis that she ought to have known what the client would do with her financial information, rather than that she actually knew. She has repaid all the money, including when the client has paid it again.
Maini said she felt overwhelmed by the client’s ‘relentless insistence’ to give her a gift, at a time when her mother was suffering a life-threatening illness.
She was found to have breached two SRA principles in providing misleading information to her employer.
The tribunal accepted Maini was placed in a very difficult position by her client’s actions, and when the money was first paid she was ‘paralysed by fear and overwhelmed’. It was accepted her actions were spontaneous and she gave her account details to get the client ‘off her back’.
She had acted ‘very foolishly’ but Maini had not in any way deceived the client, and the payments had been made good. As well as her £25,000 fine, she also agreed with the SRA to pay £9,000 costs.