Lawyer struck off ‘who used thousands of his own money to keep clients happy’

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

Paul Smith, 39, who was working 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 from defendant 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 costs 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 that Mr Smith had “limited” experience of personal injury work when he was offered a position in Williamson’s personal injury department, but he had been grateful for the job at the time of the recession.

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 in 2014 a close relative became ill and he was visiting his relative in hospital daily, increasing the pressure on him.

“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 was told and a few days later said he would resign immediately.

Mr Smith “apologised profusely to everyone who had been affected by his conduct. He confirmed he had made the payments (to the two clients) 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.

Director and head of personal injury at Williamsons Jim Suthers said in a statement: “Mr Smith was employed by the firm for nine years as a paralegal, a trainee solicitor and then as a qualified solicitor, specialising in personal injuries claims.

“Throughout this period Mr Smith had daily contact with a Senior supervisor and he ran a standard PI case load under supervision.

“Although the general standard of Mr Smith’s work was considered to be very good, unfortunately during 2014 on a small handful of cases, he made mistakes 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 Mr Smith’s actions were discovered Williamsons contacted those clients affected and ensured that the initial mistake was remedied and clients suitably compensated. In accordance with professional standards, the matter was reported to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.”