The tribunal ruled she was somewhat economical with the actualité
A solicitor has been struck off for facilitating a house sale for an elderly client at £250,000 below its market value, in order to sell it to her own civil partner.
Julia Cooper worked as a solicitor at eponymous firm J Cooper Solicitors in East London. In 2010, an elderly woman, 'Ms S', instructed Cooper to obtain probate of her ex-husband's estate, where the main asset was a house. Mrs S did not have substantial wealth herself, and lived alone in a council flat.
Cooper drafted, witnessed and stamped an agreement for the property to be sold to her own civil partner, at the time, 'G'. The agreement included unfavourable terms stating that Ms S would have to pay G damages of £20,000, plus an onerous interest rate, if the property was not transferred to him. Cooper drafted the sale agreement knowing that Ms S had not received independent legal advice.
When probate was granted in 2014, Cooper listed the property sale price at £200,000 despite knowing that it had been recently valued at £450,000. Cooper also sought to prevent another potential buyer from getting the house, even though that person purported to have an agreement with Ms S back in 2011 to purchase the property.
In 2020, the solicitor drafted a new will for the elderly lady, which named her as the sole executor and beneficiary. Ms S died in 2021.
When the case came before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Cooper said that she had been led astray by her own kindness, as she had supported Ms S by helping her with chores such as collecting her shopping.
Cooper claimed to the tribunal that the elderly lady was only her client in respect of the probate, but said that she had advised Ms S on the property sale, as a friend. She denied that Ms S was her client for that matter, as she had not opened a file or received payment.
However, the tribunal said Ms S was Cooper’s client, and the old lady had relied on the advice that Cooper had provided in her capacity as a solicitor, when entering into the unfavourable property agreement. The tribunal also found that Cooper herself had referred to Ms S as her client in correspondence.
Cooper claimed that the redrafting of the will was only an expression of the elderly woman's "wishes" and denied misconduct. But the panel lambasted Cooper for the "improper" action of creating the new will, when there was a clear conflict of interest. A solicitor should not "prepare a will where they were the sole beneficiary and executor without ensuring that independent advice had been received," said the panel.
The tribunal found that the solicitor had taken unfair advantage of the old lady on "numerous occasions", despite Cooper herself referring to Ms S as "frail." Cooper had been dishonest "in fragrant breach of trust placed in her by her elderly client", planner her actions, and had been motivated by greed, found the tribunal.
The SDT struck Cooper off the roll and ordered that she pay £45,000 in costs.