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Law Society’s inconsistent prosecution of ‘crooked lawyers’ hits consumer protection as Glasgow solicitor admits embezzlement charges over client funds

27 Jan

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society only prosecute a handful of crooked lawyers. LAWYERS GONE BAD is a now familiar tale in Scotland, where it appears now more likely clients will end up being ripped off by their lawyer instead of being helped. The now widely held perception that Scottish solicitors are a touch less than honest was yet again reinforced today by news of another ‘crooked lawyer’, this time from Glasgow law firm Cannons, admitting to charges of embezzling funds from clients trust accounts.

Lynne Sim, a partner with Cannons Law Partnership, admitted embezzling £16,956.84 between December 2005 and May 2006 from various trust accounts to pay off clients who were allegedly awaiting payments from other companies. She claimed she planned to pay the money back into the accounts when payments arrived.

The court heard that discrepancies in the law firm’s client accounts emerged while Ms Sim was on maternity leave with one client saying he had received a payment in respect of a dispute with an insurance company, but the insurers denying that any payment had been made. When investigations began, it transpired that funds to pay a cheque had been taken from the trust account of another client.

In mitigation, Ms Sim’s defence solicitor, Iain Fleming told the court there was no financial gain for his client, and insinuated his client might even have suffered a financial loss, because she had repaid not only the sums that were diverted, but also the interest that would have been lost, claiming it was all a question of “borrowing from one account to pay other clients“.

While Ms Sim has been suspended by the Law Society of Scotland for acting as a lawyer for 10 years, and has of course, been prosecuted, admitted guilt, and will be sentenced next month, the problem here is there is a great deal of unevenness in the legal profession’s resolve to prosecute and deal with ‘crooked lawyers’ in a way which will protect consumers from repeat offenders, many of whom slip through the Law Society’s closed shop complaints system, going onto fleece hundreds more unsuspecting clients throughout Scotland who know nothing of their crooked past.

Crown Office on prosecutions of solicitorsCrown Office letter revealed lack of will to prosecute crooked lawyers. A prime example of this would be the recent case of another Glasgow lawyer, Catriona Macfarlane, who covered up her mortgage broker husband’s theft of funds from a client she also represented, a story you can read more about here : Glasgow lawyer who covered up husband’s £24k client theft gets slap on the wrist by Law Society tribunal, continues working, which, suspiciously the Crown Office failed to pick up on for a prosecution, which I further reported, here : Law Society ‘routinely fails to report crime’ as Crown Office admits it never received report on Glasgow lawyer theft cover-up investigation

‘Crooked lawyers’ not always struck off despite Law Society claims :

The lesson here of course, is not to trust your lawyer with your funds, handle them yourself. After all, its your money so why surrender it to some poorly regulated lawyer who can basically do as they please with it, and if lost to you, will take years to recover through complex claim procedures against the infamous “Guarantee Fund” and lengthy Law Society red tape, which still does not guarantee a full refund after being plundered by a lawyer.

For a little guidance on Client accounts, I wrote an advisory on the subject last year, here : Advisory : Clients must protect their money from unsafe legal firms as Law Society’s Guarantee Fund fails.

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