A former DLA Piper partner who panicked and faked a signature has been suspended from practice for a year.
Robert Arnison, who headed up the firm’s Manchester real estate practice at the time, was instructed on the purchase of a £13.5m property in Chelsea for which the buyers, ‘Mr and Mrs B’, had arranged a £6m mortgage.
Arnison sent his clients the completion documents to sign and asked his PA to confirm that they’d been correctly executed when they were returned, which she did.
But after he sent them across, the bank's lawyer, Gary Shepherd, emailed Arnison with the dread words, “Robert, Just tried to call you. The legal charge isn’t correctly executed”.
The witness had not signed the mortgage deed, and Arnison, “suffering from anxiety and in panic”, and under pressure from his "particularly demanding" client, “applied a squiggle where the signature should have been”.
He then told Shepherd that everything was in hand, and within 25 minutes provided a copy of the executed document.
Unfortunately the signature he’d quickly scribbled did not match the witness’s signature on the other documents.
When the bank flagged the discrepancy with the purchasers, Arnison's client appears to have suggested that the newly executed mortgage deed had been witnessed by a removal man.
“Robert, Can I trouble you to call me”, wrote Shepherd.
After speaking with the bank's lawyer, Arnison procured a version of the deed which had been correctly executed by the correct witness, for real.
In a fit of honesty, once the transaction was completed Arnison confessed to DLA Piper’s relationship partner, Jonathan Watkins, that he had initially faked the witness’s signature. They agreed to report it to the UK Managing Partner, Liam Cowell, and it was then raised with the firm’s General Counsel.
DLA Piper removed Arnison’s equity status pending the outcome of the SRA’s investigation, but even before the firm reported its findings to the regulator in May 2020, he had ceased to be a partner, and was working as a consultant instead.
Admitting all the allegations against him, Arnison told the SDT in mitigation that he had been working “extremely hard and, as he now understands, excessively hard”, particularly after a significant chunk of his team left the firm in 2013.
He typically worked 70 hour weeks and on Sundays and holidays. But he made “no criticism of the firm in this respect”, nor of his PA, explaining that he “plainly he took too much upon himself" and "was on the verge of burnout. Something had to give”.
The tribunal agreed that the former partner's panicked scribble was “a classic ‘moment of madness’” which was “caused in large part by overwork for a period of about 10 years”.
As well as being suspended for a year, Arnison agreed to pay costs to the SRA of £17,250.
A DLA Piper spokesperson said, “We are aware of the SRA’s decision to suspend our former partner, Robert Arnison, following misconduct which was identified and reported jointly to the regulator”.