A Scots lawyer whose firm overcharged clients and took fees to which it was not entitled has been struck off the solicitors’ roll.
Alison Greer, 51, a cashroom partner in the firm, was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) over a course of conduct which was described as “serious and reprehensible”.
The tribunal heard that Mrs Greer was, along with her twin brother, a partner in the firm Alder Hogg Solicitors in Kirkintilloch between July 2007 and September 2012, when a judicial factor was appointed to the firm.
She was previously made the subject of a complaint before the SSDT over allegations that she failed to respond to correspondence, but the proceedings against her were abandoned after it emerged that the letters had been concealed from her by her husband Kenneth Greer, who was the firm’s office manager and cashier.
However, the firm continued to employ Mr Greer until the appointment of the judicial factor, and the tribunal found that Mrs Greer failed in her duties as cashroom partner to supervise her husband and ensure that the firm complied with the Solicitors Accounts Rules, as it overcharged a number of clients in executry matters – with the total amount of fees wrongly taken and not refunded amounting to more than £126,000.
Mrs Greer’s twin brother had also appeared before the tribunal on the same set of facts and was suspended from practice for five years after being found guilty of professional misconduct.
He maintained that he had no knowledge of what was taking place in circumstances where his sister was the cashroom partner and her husband was the cashroom manager.
An examination of the files appeared to show that it was Mr Greer who was managing the files and fixing the fees, but the tribunal found that Mrs Greer failure in her obligation as cashroom partner to supervise the firm’s office manager and cashier and failed in her duty to take steps to satisfy herself that fees being charged to executries were properly so charged.
She also continued drawing of funds from the firm while it was being financed by the overcharges to clients.
In a written decision, SSDT vice chairman Alan McDonald said: “The role of the cashroom partner is one of the most important roles within a firm. It is essential that the public be able to have confidence in the profession and the role f the cashroom partner has been designed to ensure the interests of the public.
“The tribunal had before it a course of conduct that had continued over a period of three years. Not only had the respondent failed to supervise an employee in relation to the individual execurty matters, which appears to have been her area of responsibility within the firm, she also failed in her duties as cashroom partner to ensure that the firm complied with the Accounts Rules.
“The respondent continued in her role as cashroom partner, and had failed to supervise her husband over a period of years where she had had previous notice of her husband’s dishonesty in hiding correspondence from her and where she was aware that the firm was in financial difficulties. Her complete dereliction of duty as cashroom partner had allowed a course of conduct to persist for three years and had led to a deficit of £126,828.64.
“The tribunal had no hesitation in unanimously holding that the conduct of the respondent fell well below that the standard to be expected of a competent and reputable solicitor which could only be described as serious and reprehensible. Accordingly the tribunal found the respondent guilty of professional misconduct.”
The SSDT determined that the appropriate sanction had to reflect the seriousness of the conduct.
Mr McDonald added: “The Solicitors Accounts Rules are an essential protection of the public interest and the role of cashroom partner is a pivotal part of the protection provided. Client funds had been used by this firm for a number of years to finance the partners’ drawings.
“While the tribunal accepted that the respondent had experienced significant personal issues, she also had significant professional responsibilities within the firm in which she had failed for a significant period of time.
“Her culpability in connection with this conduct was significantly greater than her twin brother. She had been the cashroom partner during the whole time period.
“Additionally, she had greater knowledge of the previous difficulties in relation to her husband. The files where overcharging had taken place were all executries, which was her area of work. Her twin brother’s work was conveyancing.
“In all these circumstances, the tribunal concluded that the only disposal available to it that would reflect the serious nature of the respondent’s conduct and that would address the issue of protection was to strike the respondent’s name from the roll of solicitors in Scotland.”