Scots lawyer who charged ‘grossly excessive fees’ and ‘misappropriated’ clients’ funds struck off

A Scots lawyer who was jailed for embezzling more than £260,000 from his aunt has been struck off the roll of solicitors after being found guilty of “professional misconduct”.

William Walls was struck off following a separate complaint to the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), which said he would be “a danger to the public” if he continued to practice.

Walls, 62, of Muir Gardens, St Andrews was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment in November after pleading guilty to embezzling the money when he was given power of attorney over his elderly relative’s affairs.

Misappropriated funds

A former partner of McQuittys in Cupar, Fife, Walls was the subject of a complaint to SSDT by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland, which was represented by fiscal Sean Lynch.

The complaint concerned his conduct in the administration of a trust, his overcharging of a client in the administration of an estate, and his “misappropriation” of tenants’ deposits after being instructed to let properties.

Having considered all the circumstances the SSDT ruled that his conduct was “sufficiently serious and reprehensible” to amount to professional misconduct.

The tribunal found that he had charged “grossly excessive fees”, taken fees without rendering fee notes or obtaining authority from clients and “misappropriated funds” held for clients to his own use.

Dishonest course of conduct

In a written decision, Eric Lumsden, acting vice chairman of the tribunal, said: “The respondent pursued a dishonest course of conduct over a significant period whereby he overcharged clients, failed to render fees and misappropriated their money for his own use.

“He failed to record a disposition for over seven years. His books and accounts did not accurately show all his dealings with client money and therefore failed to reflect the true financial position of the firm. His client account was in deficit for at least seven months.”

In mitigation, solicitor advocate Simon Collins told the tribunal that Walls had inherited a firm that was “struggling” but did not appreciate the extent of the financial difficulties.

He was not equipped to deal with the problems and his conduct had represented his efforts to “prevent the firm going down”.

Mr Collins added that the monies embezzled from his aunt and the monies referred to in the present complaint had been repaid through a trustee in bankruptcy.

‘Danger to the public’

However, the tribunal noted that Walls had been previously found guilty of professional misconduct in 2015 and was suspended from practice for five years.

The tribunal said it was a “fundamental principle” that the client account was “sacrosanct: and decided the only appropriate sanction was to order that Walls name be struck off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland.

Mr Lumsden added: “The tribunal considered that the professional misconduct in this case was very serious.

“His dishonest conduct involving a significant number of transactions was likely to damage the reputation of the legal profession.

“If the respondent continued to practise, it was likely that he would be a danger to the public.”