A newly qualified solicitor has been struck off after she knowingly overcharged clients when she was a trainee.

Emily Scott joined the firm Quality Solicitors De Vita Platt in Barton-upon-Humber as a paralegal in 2010 before being taken on as a trainee in 2012. She soon found that there was very little of quality about the firm. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the firms' two partners, Jonathan de Vita and Christopher Platt, repeatedly ripped off a number of clients. In one instance a client was charged £52,000 for work valued at £2,500.

Platt – who claimed he couldn’t live on less than £2,000 a week – bullied the unfortunate trainee into assisting with the fraud and, subsequently, his attempts to cover it up. Scott did not benefit financially and ultimately reported the firm to the SRA. She qualified in November 2014.

Platt
Platt and de Vita. On two grand a week they should probably look less like rejects from the Inbetweeners.

 

Last week the Tribunal struck off both Platt and de Vita and ordered them to pay £143,000 in costs. It found that Scott “had been deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” by the partners, and acknowledged that she had exposed them at great personal cost. But her misconduct was so serious that the only appropriate action was to strike her off too. Despite clearly being under the thumb of a colossal pair of twatmandrills, she was ordered to pay costs of £2,000 and found her career over before it even started.

UPDATE: Quality Solicitors is apparently very keen to distance itself from certain non-quality solicitors, but it's been a struggle. A spokeswoman told RollOnFriday, "De Vita Platt have not been part of the QualitySolicitors network since 2015, but failed to register their exit from the network and change in trading name with the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Law Society. QualitySolicitors informed both bodies that the firm were no longer part of the network, but were unable to register this without the cooperation of the firm". It meant that the firm was referred to as Quality Solicitors De Vita Platt by everyone, including the SRA, right up until it was closed down in January 2018. Ah well.

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Comments

Anon 01 February 19 08:44

This seems a harsh decision given that she voluntarily reported them and likely would have lost her job if she'd tried to stand up to them during her training contract. The SRA needs to consider how this sort of decision might be seen by other vulnerable junior employees who are contemplating whistleblowing bad practice. Perhaps they could have given her another chance to redo a portion of her training contract at another (more ethical) firm? 

Anonymous 01 February 19 08:55

Shocking result. SRA should hang its head in shame. Sends a very very bad message to any other potential whistleblowers. 

Anon 01 February 19 09:24

Terrible decision.  The SRA are sending the message that it is better to shut up and keep your head down.

Anonymous 01 February 19 09:38

Is she appealing*? If this is the full set of facts, sounds like she ought to be.   *in the judgment sense

Anonymous 01 February 19 09:52

Mad decision and it will have a chilling impact on whistleblowing - it's often only when an individual has had some involvement in the dodgy dealings that they actually know enough to blow the whistle FFS.  For my part, I would like the SRA to look into those West End firms acting for opaque "family trusts" with money from Panama and the Seychelles.

FmrCityLawFirmWorker 01 February 19 10:01

Wow. Just wow.  Hoping that some reader is connected with, and can arrange, a pro bono appeal for this lady.  FFS!

Sumoking 01 February 19 10:06

Absolutely outrageous of the SRA!

They happily support and reinforce an environment where the trainee is utterly dependent on the whims of partners and then catasrophically fail to back them up in their role as a regulator. In this instance, sending a clear message that nobody should ever ever ever report fraud by a partner to the regulator. 

pugnosedgimp 01 February 19 10:18

absolutely nuts. the whole idea of encouraging a whistleblowing culture of reporting misdeeds to the appropriate authorities is to give those reporting confidence they will be shielded from repercussions. 

Anonymous 01 February 19 10:21

Well this seems completely a**-backwards. Shouldn't the SRA you know, actually be supporting people in vulnerable positions that seek to blow the whistle on wrong-doing at great personal risk? All this will do is send out a clear signal that you should ignore wrong-doing, keep your head down and stay well out of it. What a terrible decision. 

Anon 01 February 19 10:35

Truly shocking decision from the SRA - I really hope she appeals and gets this  stupid  ruling overturned

Blow hole 01 February 19 10:39

Crazy - there have been a number of instances recently where the SRA has been prepared to let people off for being dishonest. Then they go and throw the book at some poor trainee who would have been paid f all, didn’t benefit and was by the SRA’s own admission bullied into this.  Poor form SRA.

Dearie 01 February 19 10:40

when will the SRA leave it’s ivory tower and do something about the horrific conditions suffered by some trainees and juniors, and actually pursue the organ grinder rather than punish the monkey?  Its a pathetic and vicious organisation.

missx 01 February 19 10:53

Shocking! That poor NQ should have had a warning and be put under supervision. How is it that a qualified solicitor and very senior partner of a large firm can knowingly shred critical documents before an Inquiry and get away with it but this poor lady is struck off??

Warren 01 February 19 10:56

Leaving aside the merits of the case (and I'm not at all convinced that someone who knowingly forges documents in a client file in order to defeat a Solicitors Ombudsman complaint, among many other things, should ever be allowed to practice ever again, regardless of when she decided to co-operate), the SRA had no choice.  In the Sovani James/Mcmillan Williams case, which to my mind involved far less dishonest conduct with far more justification, the SRA decision not to strike her off was overturned by the High Court.  In light of that decision striking off in this case was inevitable.

Warren 01 February 19 10:59

The SRA had no choice in the matter.  In the Sovani James/Mcmillan Williams case, which involved far less dishonest conduct with far more justification, the SRA's decision not to strike her off was overturned by the High Court.  In light of the reasoning in that case striking off in this case was inevitable.

ShootyMcShootyface 01 February 19 11:28

The pair of them should have been struck off years ago just for looking like that. 

Jesus H Christ, talk about bringing the profession into disrepute. Just look at them, then one on the left in particular.

Most punchable faces I've seen in a long, long time. 

Anonymous 01 February 19 11:46

It's a rock and hard place. She snitches and loses her TC. Then may never get qualified. She doesn't snitch and she is implicit, leading to strike off. Understand the decision as it's about integrity but they could have placed a restriction on her touching client money to allow her to practice in a limited capacity to see if she can build up a good track record. 

Anonymous 01 February 19 11:58

No incentive to whistleblow shown here; rather the reverse.  One of a spate of recent troubling SRA decisions (not helped by the objectively wrong looking decision on appeal of the High Court when it comes to Sovani James). If she'd worked for a much bigger firm with much better media contacts and a part of the legal establishment (of course I'm not thinking of any one specific firm or recent example here) and done something much worse objectively I suspect she'd have managed to get away with it

G 01 February 19 11:58

The Sovani James case does set some degree of precedent, but whistle-blowers do require a different approach, otherwise such awful behaviour from the partners may never be exposed.  If there isn't some form of amnesty for the whistle-blower then why would they incriminate themselves?  If the current case isn't successfully appealed it will kill off the idea of whistle-blowing in the legal sector entirely

Anonymous 01 February 19 12:29

Had Scott given evidence on oath and submitted herself to cross examination by the SRA and questioning by the Tribunal (rather than defend by submission only, as she elected to do) then there is perhaps the chance that reasons not to strike may have emerged in the course of the hearing.  Sadly, the Judgment shows that there were none for the SDT to work with. The decision in SRA v James, Naylor and MacGregor binds the hands of the Tribunal.  It rendered the mitigation that was advanced by Scott doomed to fail.  Had the SDT imposed any less than a strike off - the inevitable sanction after a finding of dishonesty - then the SRA would have appealed that decision, which would have forced Scott into the Admin Court as an unwilling participant in an appeal that would have seen her having to meet her own and the SRA's costs of appeal (which are always heady) when the Court failed to find that the Tribunal had done anything wrong.  The SRA always appeals cases which it considers that it has 'lost', and anything less than a strike would be seen by the regulator as a loss.  No other sanction was open to the Tribunal, as the Judgment records.  Given that Scott told the Tribunal that she did not want to continue to practice in the profession anyway the Tribunal may have seen the avoidance of the risk of appeal as a kindness. The bad decision if there was one (so far as sending a message to future whistle-blowers is concerned) was not that of the Tribunal but was by the SRA at the point that it brought the allegation of dishonesty against Scott.  But then again actively misleading the Ombudsman, drawing up bills that you know to be false and holding back from blowing the whistle for two years are not qualities that are actively sought from members of the profession whatever their PQE or working conditions, and whilst I love a good bit of SRA-bashing it is difficult to see how the regulator would have been able to justify not bringing the allegation against those facts. Despite what might be thought from the above I do have some sympathy for Scott and I hope that she never encounters individuals like de Vita or Platt ever again.

Anonymous 01 February 19 12:38

This case doesn't stop whistle-blowing but encourages solicitors to call out the misconduct of others immediately, which is the whole point of the COLP/COFA and self-reporting regulatory regime.  Had this happened in this case then perhaps she would have escaped prosecution and faced some lesser internal sanction or control of practice but by participating in the misconduct of others, both actively and by remaining silent for two years before she reported the partners, this was not a whistle-blower with clean hands. Guidance from the SRA on their approach to future whistle-blowers and the timing of reports would be welcome.

Anon 01 February 19 13:06

Professional ethics and learning where to draw the line is not imparted merely by text-book training, but by learning from what other people around you consider normative. Failing to move office money from the client account in 14 days and forging a signature aren't behaviours which the SRA handbook distinguishes. This trainee's professional appreciation of the wrongness of her conduct was stymied by her placement in an environment which oozed dishonesty - an environment that was approved as a training firm by the SRA. The wrong-doing was at the severe end, but the context and the interests of the public in encouraging whistleblowers were not considered.

Briefcase wanker! 01 February 19 19:58

very serious points here and all that. But heh at the inbetweeners ref...

Anonymous 01 February 19 20:35

I agree with all the points above regarding the protection of whistleblowers and the fact the SRA judgment was unfair to the trainee.  But there's a much bigger point here - how did the SRA ever allow someone with that haircut to practise law?  

Tim L 02 February 19 04:18

Terrible approach by the SRA - ruining someone’s career for doing the right thing!  SRA to trainee: “you can put the mint imperials back on your way out”.  Trainee to SRA: “stern but fair”. 

Inhouser 03 February 19 11:07

I don't know the details but do feel that she should be rewarded for having the guts to speak up, not penalised. In other jurisdictions whistleblowers get paid which makes sense given the sacrifice they make. 

Anonymous 03 February 19 23:39

Good luck to the SRA in getting anyone else to blow the whistle on dodgy firms after this. A massive perverse incentive for anyone to come forward if they're ordered to do anything unethical by a partner. 

Je Suis Monty Don l’Autobus 06 February 19 05:16

Another epic, career-ending injustice perpetrated by the impudent little men in horsehair of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (aka the Society for the Harassment or Other Solicitors). How much more is this coalition of the pompous and the failed going to be allowed to get away with? Punishing whistleblowing, now. If only there were two centuries of business and political experience to tell us where policies like that might lead. Everyone reading this article who is regulated by the SRA should write to them now, protesting this decision.

Je Suis Monty Don l’Autobus 06 February 19 05:20

Warren @ 01 Feb: the SDT had every option of doing the right thing in the case. Even if it thought the decision would have been vulnerable to challenge in the High Court (if so, the law is truly an ass) it ought still have done the right thing. The more the judges get presented with precedent that clearly ought be overturned, the more chance it will be.

Juriet Blavo 06 February 19 05:37

As I understand the Macgregor and James cases, it boiled down to whether “exceptional circumstances” had been found to exist in those incidents. I know less about Macgregor, but in James I believe the High Court stated that workplace stress could not constitute exceptional circumstances exculpating dishonesty. Or perhaps it merely ruled that on the particular facts of Ms James’ case, her circumstances of stress were not exceptional. Whatever; the former position of principle is clearly wrong in law and the latter was probably nonsense on the facts of the James case. Getting back to the point, however, the fact that in the present case the accused solicitor had acted as a whistleblower clearly merits specific consideration. It is not true that these cases “bound the hands” of the SDT in the Scott case, not at all.

JohnJo 07 February 19 13:21

this is appalling. The SDT needs a reality check and 101 training on how this will affect other whistleblowers

jobo 07 February 19 14:26

You people need to read the decision clearly, which provides a sound rationale for how the SDT came to the view they did. Unfortunate, but entirely right outcome.    Does anyone know if the crowdfunding has been set up for Scott?