Struck off: ‘Inexperienced’ Hull lawyer who tried to cover mistakes using own cash

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A PERSONAL injury lawyer who used thousands of pounds of his own money and fabricated documents to keep his clients happy has been struck off.

Paul Smith, 39, who worked for Williamsons in Hull, paid two clients nearly £5,000 from his own pocket after failing to issue proceedings on personal injury matters.

On another occasion in 2015 he fabricated a document, purporting to be from a defendant’s solicitors, after failing to issue proceedings “to buy some time so I could get some money together and pay the client off.” He also admitted fabricating a letter of instruction to a cost consultancy.

Mr Smith admitted making false statements concerning the progress of claims of four clients and a third party funder USDAW, between June 2013 and July 2014.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard he had “limited” experience of personal injury work when he was offered a position as a paralegal in Williamson’s personal injury department.

His caseload increased to 170 files and he had to start work early in the morning until late in the evening to keep on top.

But a tipping point came in 2014 when a close relative became ill who he was visiting daily in hospital daily. “He thought that if he explained he was struggling with his work, he would lose his job,” the tribunal was told.

The matters came to light after a routine file audit was undertaken in August 2015.

Mr Smith “apologised profusely to everyone who had been affected by his conduct. He confirmed he had made the payments in order to ensure they did not suffer any financial loss due to his conduct.”

The panel said they had “considerable sympathies” for his circumstances but dishonesty had been found proved. “He had acted very naively and his inexperience had been his downfall,” it said.

Mr Smith worked at Williamsons for nine years as a paralegal, then trainee solicitor and as a qualified solicitor from 2011.

Director and head of personal injury Jim Suthers said Mr Smith “ran a standard PI caseload under supervision.”

Although his work was generally very good he made mistakes on a “small handful of cases, regarding the limitation period, which he then deliberately concealed from his supervisor and created false paperwork to avoid detection and to override the firm’s case management system. These mistakes could and would have been remedied with prompt action had Mr Smith disclosed them straight away to his supervisor or the firm.”

Once his actions came to light clients were contacted and compensated and the matter was reported to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.