The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had to step in to secure thousands of client files after a solicitor shut his practice. The practitioner told the regulator that he could not afford the safe collection, storage or disposal of files archived in the basement of his firm.
The solicitor, who had been practising for over 30 years, had run into financial difficulties. He told the SRA that he had run up personal debts of £150,000 and was closing his firm. He reported that his landlord had sent him a bill for dilapidations which he could not afford to pay. The solicitor warned the SRA that it was likely that the owner would take possession of the office – running the risk that the files could be accessed by the landlord or others.
The SRA stepped in, securing over 4,000 files, and including around 300 deeds and 400 wills stored at the office.
The solicitor later told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) that his actions were not premeditated, were beyond his control and something he desperately wanted to avoid. He said he had informed the SRA of his difficulties as soon as he determined the situation was unavoidable and liaised with them throughout the process.
He has now been fined £3,750 by the SDT for failing to secure the files and other rule breaches. The fine was reduced from £7,500 in recognition of his liaison with the regulator and financial position.
“The rules are clear that solicitors are required to protect the assets of their clients,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “It is important that solicitors make proper provisions to safeguard or properly destroy their clients’ files if they are planning to shut-down their practice. The same applies to client data and other electronic information.”
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