A solicitor who kept quiet about a court order for costs made against her client for six months, resulting in a charging order being imposed on his property, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Katherine Gilroy also admitted sending misleading emails to the client and the principal of her law firm, which was not named, attaching letters containing “false and disingenuous” information.
Ms Gilroy admitted that she deliberately sent these letters to a wrong email address for the other side’s solicitors, so she could mislead her principal, ‘Ms SK’, and her client, ‘Mr AT’, into thinking they had been sent.
However, she did not admit dishonesty. On the grounds that she accepted being struck off and would not apply for restoration to the roll, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) withdrew this allegation.
In an agreed outcome with the SRA that was approved by the tribunal, Ms Gilroy said she “struggled to deal with the pressures of working in a small law firm” as a newly qualified solicitor.
In mitigation that was not endorsed by the SRA, she recounted how, in addition to legal work, she was also involved in administration, marketing, accounting, credit control, and office management, while being the first point of contact for all clients and for any office enquiry.
She described feeling like she was “carrying the weight of an entire law firm on [her] shoulders” and claimed she had insufficient support.
Ms Gilroy gave evidence to the SRA that she had a “history of work-related stress” and had taken medication “over an extended period”.
The solicitor said she had “failed to deal with correspondence at the relevant time and “the matter had escalated to such a point that she knew she had done the wrong thing” and had “found herself in a complete mess”.
Due to workload pressures, she was “too afraid to own up to what happened until much later than she should have done.”
The SRA said Ms Gilroy joined the firm in 2014 as a paralegal and undertook her training contract there, specialising in commercial work.
She was admitted as a solicitor in January 2017 and suspended the following January, after admitting to her supervisor that she had concealed receipt of letters. The law firm investigated and Ms Gilroy resigned in February 2018.
The SRA said she later worked as a commercial lawyer for another law firm, but she had since resigned and “secured employment outside the profession”.
Ms Gilroy represented Mr AT in a dispute with his business partner. In early 2017 she drafted an application for pre-action disclosure, which was successful, but Mr AT was ordered to pay costs of £1,500 plus VAT.
The law firm on the other side, Carpenters, sent Ms Gilroy a letter in July 2017 seeking payment of costs pursuant to the court order, followed by two others the following month.
When these were ignored Carpenters said they would apply for a court order seeking payment, which they obtained in October, requiring Mr AT to pay £2,700 within two weeks.
When this was ignored, Carpenters obtained a further court order in November, transferring the costs proceedings to the County Court Money Claims Centre.
Carpenters wrote directly to Mr AT in December, enclosing a copy of a charging order over his property they had obtained for a sum of £3,100, because the client had failed to pay despite three court orders, the latest two of which were attached.
The client told Ms Gilroy he was “remarkably surprised” to see the court orders because he had not been sent them. Ms Gilroy agreed in January 2018 to review the court orders and send them to counsel for advice.
Since she did not tell counsel that she knew about the court orders, counsel advised her to apply for them to be set aside on the grounds they were made without notice.
Ms Gilroy responded by drafting a letter to counsel containing a number of false assertions, which she sent to her client and counsel and “purported” to send to Carpenters by deliberately sending it to the wrong email address.
A few days later, she informed her law firm that “she had not sent the letter to Carpenters as it was not true and that she had been aware of the court orders”.
The firm made good the outstanding sum and also paid Carpenters’ further costs.