Matthew Sparrow joined Clyde & Co's Manchester office in October 2016, working on road traffic accident cases. He was employed on a six-month contract but resigned after just two months as he complained of having more cases than he could manage.
In the case before the tribunal, Sparrow was acting for a defendant to a personal injury claim. He called opposing solicitors Slater & Gordon to seek an extension for the filing of the defence. Sparrow wrote in his attendance note, which was not contemporaneous but four days after the call, that S&G said it would "not be a problem" to allow an extension.
However, S&G had not actually given such an extension. The ambulance-chasing firm therefore applied and obtained judgment in default. Sparrow subsequently amended his attendance note to state that S&G had said that an extension "can be agreed". He then emailed Birkenhead County Court to say that an extension had been granted.
After Sparrow left the firm in January 2017, the file was transferred to a Clydes lawyer who made an application to set aside S&G's default judgment based on Sparrow's attendance note. However, S&G produced a transcript of the telephone call which demonstrated Sparrow's attendance note was inaccurate and that an extension had not been agreed. Clydes dropped the application.
A Clydes lawyer receives Sparrow's handover note. How it might have looked
The SRA hauled Sparrow before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in May this year, for misleading the court and producing the inaccurate attendance note. Sparrow admitted to the tribunal that he had made an "untrue statement" to the court that an extension had been agreed, when it had not. He also admitted that his "simple but serious" mistake was compounded by amending the attendance note.
In mitigation, Sparrow's lawyer said that when his client joined Clydes he was "immediately given a heavy caseload" of low value road traffic accident cases. His lawyer argued that the nature of the work was process-driven with little to distinguish one case from another, and so there was "no malevolent intent" as Sparrow probably confused this case with another one. Sparrow's lawyer also said that work pressure at Clydes was another factor that led to the "honest" mistake; when Sparrow asked for his caseload to be reduced, it was increased.
The SDT noted that Sparrow had been frank and open from the outset, and believed that his mistake was "unplanned". However, the tribunal said that Sparrow's conduct had caused harm to the profession's reputation and slapped him with a fine £5,000 and ordered that he pay £7,000 in costs.
A spokesman for Clyde & Co said that Sparrow had left the firm "before we identified an isolated issue and reported it to the SRA." He added "as a firm we hold ourselves to the highest professional and ethical standards and expect all of our people to uphold our code of conduct and client service standards."