"Doing great Ron, could you move back a touch?"

An Eversheds Sutherland solicitor who eavesdropped on a meeting to help out his client has been cleared of misconduct.

Ronald Paterson, a legal director at the firm, was instructed by Peter Davidson, the chairman of communications company Stratospheric Platforms Ltd, to join a Zoom meeting at which the rest of the SPL board planned to remove him as chairman. 

The board objected to Paterson’s presence and its CEO emailed the lawyer, “Please do not attempt to join the Board meeting in question”.

But just before the meeting, Davidson texted Paterson, “I will ring you. Don’t say anything”. Then, perhaps to save money, he texted again to tell Paterson, “Ring me to get on the call”.

Paterson rang immediately and listened via Davidson’s phone as the Zoom meeting began and the board voted against allowing him to attend.

Instead of hanging up, he stayed on the line for two hours, not only for the meeting about Davidson, but for a second meeting about commercial matters.

When the company's phone records revealed that Davidson had been on a call with Paterson for the duration of the board's Zoom meetings, Jon Reddington of Travers Smith, acting for SPL, confronted the Eversheds lawyer.

Paterson told Reddington, “At the time, I drew a distinction between being able to participate in the meeting (and to address the directors) and being able to advise my client privately on the issues to be discussed... In the circumstances, I decided to stay on the call to be able to advise my client. This was a split-second decision, which I recognise now was an error of judgment”.

Travers reported Paterson to the SRA, as did Eversheds Sutherland a few days later.

The SRA's prosecutor told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that Paterson “deliberately kept silent so that the company could not know that he was attending in secret”, and argued that it was “the equivalent of listening outside the door, or standing under an open window to hear what was going on in a meeting from which one has been barred”.

“The general public would find such conduct from a solicitor shocking – perhaps even tantamount to espionage”, he said.

However, the tribunal agreed with the defence that Paterson had not actually attended the meeting.

It pointed to the fact that he was not listed as an attendee in the draft minutes, and had no means of communicating with anyone present at the meetings other than his own client. 

“He could not see who was present on the Zoom call, nor who was speaking at any particular time. He could not intervene and make representations on behalf of his client, as he had intended to do, had his client’s request that he be allowed to attend been acceded to”, it said.

Nor was the secrecy evidence of misconduct, as Paterson “was under no obligation to inform anyone that he was providing advice to his client”.

The tribunal also agreed that there was no discernible difference between listening to a recording to the meeting afterwards, for which he would have received no criticism, “and hearing what was said in real-time for the same purpose”.

It ruled that whilst the concept of a solicitor listening to a meeting from which they knew they had been excluded "might be uncomfortable", in the circumstances of Paterson's case, it did not amount to professional misconduct.

However, Paterson’s application for costs of £101k was rejected, despite entreaties to the tribunal that the case was so thin it should never have been brought.

Explaining its decision not to award costs, the tribunal noted that both Eversheds Sutherland and Travers Smith had reported Paterson for his conduct, and that although he'd been cleared, there had been “a number of cases where an error of judgement did amount to professional misconduct”.

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Anonymous 06 October 23 09:49

Uncomfortable for him to continue working at Eversheds if his own firm didn't try to defend him and instead, threw him under the bus.

Will Eversheds reimburse his costs?

BasicCivility 06 October 23 11:14

Bit of an error phoning on the work mobile! At least call his personal number.

That’s menkle 06 October 23 11:14

So if you’re reported by your firm assume you won’t recover costs

Do these people live in a bubble??

that will automatically make for unnecessarily aggressive negotiation in future between firm and individual solicitors at the beginning of the investigation 

menkle….if reported accurately 

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