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Solicitor avoids striking off for "contrived" fee notes

11 February 2019

A solicitor has been censured, fined and had his practising certificate restricted for professinal misconduct including issuing "contrived" fee notes in order to clear credit balances on client accounts, but the Discipline Tribunal decided there were exceptional circumstances where it was not necessary to strike him off.

The tribunal found Thomas Duff, of Robert F Duff & Co Ltd, Largs guilty of professional misconduct by taking sums of money from client ledgers in settlement of two contrived fee notes in order to clear credit balances of £140 and £200 in connection with two executries where work was otherwise complete. No work was done to justify these fees, and the fee notes were not rendered outside the firm. Also and in cumulo, the tribunal found Mr Duff guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure to deal with historic credit balances, failure to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations, failure to provide reasonable cooperation with the inspection/investigation procedure, failure to reply properly to enquiries made by the Law Society of Scotland, failure to communicate effectively with a client and failure to carry out instructions adequately and completely within a reasonable time.

In its decision the tribunal described the duty of honesty and integrity as "a fundamental and underpinning obligation of the profession". Mr Duff had admitted acting dishonestly by taking the two credit balances to fees. However the conduct was not committed for his own financial gain; he had exercised very poor judgment by cutting corners to deal with two credit balances and the money had been repaid. He had no history of misconduct.

The Tribunal considered that the case fell into the category of exceptional circumstances where a strike off was not necessary. However, to protect the public and to mark the gravity of the misconduct. The Tribunal censured Mr Duff, fined him £2,000 and directed that any practising certificate held or issued to him should limit him to acting as a qualified assistant for at least five years.

Click here to view the tribunal's findings.

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