One of the great mysteries of the profession seems to be why anyone would want to impersonate a solicitor. Think of the muck that is thrown at us from above and below.
But people do. The latest to be unmasked is Nicholas Moss who, while claiming to work for north-west London’s Community Law Project, forged a county court judgment apparently quashing a client’s debt to the Revenue. Taking pro bono work a step too far, that is.
The only fake solicitor I can recall coming across was when, during an early stage of my articles, Simpson employed Smith as an assistant solicitor ‘with a view to partnership’, as the phrase went. I had not been doing as well as Simpson had expected and so I was attached to Smith with strict instructions to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words of this great man. And a very pleasant, amiable man he was too, with highly Brilliantined black hair and a penchant for yellow string gloves which passed for fashion in those days.
About the only thing I knew was how to work my way round the law courts. I began to wonder if Smith knew as much as he claimed when he addressed Tom, the usher in the Bear Garden, as master. There again, it might have been an in-joke.
He seemed to get good results representing Simpson’s clients in the local courts, but he came unstuck when he appeared in front of one of the rougher stipes, who had a nasty habit of looking up the advocate appearing before him in the law list. And of course while there were many Smiths, there was not this one. He might have been able to brazen it out – after all, Lord Goodman’s name was inadvertently omitted one year – but his nerve failed. Told to go and get his practising certificate for 2pm, he fled. I read somewhere he had done the same thing a few years after and served a short sentence.
I met him quite by chance many years later when he was working as a clerk. He said we had never met but I would have recognised the hair, albeit thinning, and the yellow gloves anywhere. I didn’t press the point.
The plus side of the affair was that I took over his room, instead of having to perch on the window sill next to the telephonist.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor