Under the SRA Standards and Regulations, within the Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs, all staff employed within a law firm are subject to those conduct rules. Paralegals can find themselves answering accusations of improper behaviour if they breach the Code.
Recently, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) barred three paralegals from the profession in the space of a few days. This demonstrates that the regulator is determined to hold paralegals to account, especially in regards to dishonesty offences.
An unsigned amended statement leads to a section 43 order
On 19 June 2020, the Law Society Gazette reported that the regulator levied a section 43 order – effectively a ban from the regulated legal profession – against Talwinder Jason Purewal over his response to a question about whether his client had signed an amended statement. Mr Purewal had submitted a client’s signed statement – shortly after, Mr Purewal was asked to provide an amended statement, which needed to be signed again by the client.
Mr Purewal submitted an amended statement a mere 26 minutes after the first, knowing that his client had not endorsed the document. The next day, he was asked by the opposing solicitors whether his client had signed the amended statement. He answered in the affirmative, without mentioning the amended statement specifically. At no time did he seek assistance or guidance from his supervisor.
The SRA said the question was ‘crystal clear and required a clear response’, but that Mr Purewal allowed the opposing solicitors to be misled as to the true position. The regulator concluded that Mr Purewal had not acted with integrity as “no” was the correct answer to the opposing solicitor’s question and the only reason someone would say any different is if they knew they had acted incorrectly.
The regulator acknowledged Mr Purewal was ‘relatively new’ to the profession, but this did not excuse his dishonesty.
Paralegal barred for settling client’s PI claim and disbursing monies to unassociated clients
A few days later, on 22 June, the Law Society Gazette reported that Angela Drinkwater, who was employed in a national firm’s personal injury department, had been barred because of serious misconduct.
In the course of her employment, Ms Drinkwater settled a client’s personal injury claim without the client’s knowledge. She then paid the client’s settlement monies to two other, unassociated clients.
Ms Drinkwater’s firm reported the matter to the SRA in December 2017, when it discovered her actions. The firm also reported the matter to the police. As a result of her conduct, on 20 November 2018, Ms Drinkwater was convicted of fraud by abuse of position at Liverpool Crown Court and sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, suspended by 24 months. She was also ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work, 15 days of rehabilitative activity and required to pay a victim surcharge of £140.
False claims regarding issuing of debt recovery proceedings
Finally, former paralegal Carl Brewster was found to have acted dishonestly after he told several clients that he had issued proceedings related to debt recovery when, in fact, this was untrue. On three of the matters he lied to clients, saying he had sent letters to the defendants when he had not, and on another occasion, he claimed to have applied for judgment in default when proceedings had not been issued. He also misled his supervisor on how one matter had reached a resolution. A section 43 order was issued against him.
Paralegals must ensure that they hold themselves to the same standards as solicitors when it comes to acting with honesty and integrity. Supervising solicitors must also ensure that they carry out checks and balances on paralegals’ work and provide the supervision necessary. Dishonesty is often the by-product of stress – in the heat of the moment, dishonest statements can be made due to fear of rebuke. Unfortunately, the consequences of such statements can be career-ending. Be open, honest and transparent about mistakes.
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