‘Zombie’ solicitor allowed to remain in profession despite finding of dishonesty
A Solicitor who had received the "South West Young Dealmaker of the Year" award in 2014 has been allowed to remain in practice despite the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) finding that he had acted dishonestly.
Peter Naylor, aged 31 at the time of the misconduct which occurred between March and August 2014, was an assistant solicitor in the corporate department of TLT, a national firm based in Bristol. Whilst on an in-house secondment he had take a TLT file with him which he intended to continue working on. The work involved applying to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to restructure three companies. However, he failed to make any progress but sent up to five misleading emails to the client giving the impression that the applications had been made and had been chased. When Naylor failed to respond to further emails from the client requesting an update the file was transferred to another fee earner whereupon the dishonesty was uncovered.
Naylor acknowledged that he should have returned the file to the firm whilst on secondment but that he had felt “overwhelmed” by the file which had caused him to have “sleepless nights”. In admission of the misleading emails he stated that he had acted as a “compulsion … with a view to making it go away”. He said that when an opportunity arose for him to become a partner at the firm in 2013 he felt that the pressure would be immense, but that he did not expressly tell the firm that he did not want to become a partner. In the lead up to the secondment his work had been more stressful and contentious than normal, involving long hours and time away from his home and young family. He had been afraid to reveal the level of stress he felt under for want of the firm perceiving him as ‘weak’ and harming his prospects. He said his family had expressed serious concerns over his working arrangements, describing him as a 'zombie'.
The SDT found the dishonesty proved and serious given that it had continued over a period of time. Noting that whilst most people would be sympathetic, they would expect a level of honesty from a solicitor to his client. They heard medical evidence which stated that Naylor was suffering from an ‘adjustment disorder’ manifesting itself in a ‘pre-disposition to avoidance and denial when under stress’.
In conclusion the SDT accepted the medical evidence provided amounted to ‘exceptional circumstances’ sufficient to justify not striking off Naylor stating that ‘The tribunal was sure that the misconduct arose at a time when the respondent was affected by mental ill health that affected his ability to conduct himself to the standards of the reasonable solicitor’.
Naylor was suspended for two years and ordered to provided half-yearly reports to the SRA with regards to his health and fitness to practice. He was also ordered to pay costs of £9,770.
A copy of the full judgment can be found here.
A spokesperson for TLT said:
'We work hard at TLT to create an open and supportive work environment that enables all our people to succeed in their chosen career, recognising the pressures common across legal private practice. A core part of this is supporting both mental and physical health and we have a number of policies and initiatives in place to do this including flexible working, private medical insurance and a comprehensive employee assistance programme that provides confidential access to professional medical and mental health support.
'In this specific case, we have managed the matter to ensure no negative impact for the client involved and have supported Peter from the moment we became aware of the issue and have continued to do so throughout the tribunal process.'
This decision follows a similar result in the case of Sovani James who was handed a suspended ban after backdating letters for fear of admitting to her mistakes as a result of pressure exerted upon her by the firm’s culture and pressure to meet billing targets.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.