A solicitor 'working incredibly hard to make a meagre living in a difficult environment' has been fined £5,000 for failing properly to manage payments for professional disbursements. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Rosalind Diana Kathleen Dunning, a partner at Dunning & Co in London, was a 'good solicitor trying to cope unsuccessfully' with changes made by the Legal Aid Agency.
Dunning, admitted in 1980, received money in respect of professional disbursements from the agency between 4 January 2011 and 20 May 2015 totalling £35,236.19. She retained those sums in office account and failed to either pay the professional disbursement or pay those sums into client account within 14 days of receipt.
She also admitted delays in refunding money that was overpaid to the firm in respect of costs totalling £23,826.60 and failing to remedy breaches of the SRA Accounts Rules promptly on discovery.
She also allowed bookkeeping errors to occur and carried out a write-off exercise on debit and credit balances from the office account, which included at least nine matter credit balances which were monies in respect of unpaid professional disbursements.
She failed to report material failures required under her obligations as compliance officer for legal practice, and finance and administration.
As soon as Dunning became aware of the breaches, she immediately made good all losses, including some disbursements missed by the agency, which she had picked up herself, the judgment stated.
Dunning 'had been working incredibly hard for long hours in order to make a meagre living in a difficult and challenging environment involving publicly funded work', the tribunal acknowledged. It added that her lack of integrity related to only a narrow aspect of her practice over a limited period of time. 'It had been in the context of a very heavy professional workload for sometimes vulnerable clients, which had led her to fail to devote the time and attention to the management of her practice which was necessary to ensure full compliance with the professional rules and her obligations to the LAA,' the judgment stated.
Dunning was also ordered to pay £13,000 in costs.