"And she's scored! But that's got to hurt..."
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has decided that a sports lawyer who was prosecuted for mismanaging client funds while at Mishcon de Reya must pay her own costs of over £500,000, despite being cleared.
Liz Ellen was accused by the Solicitors Regulation Authority of paying third parties out of Mishcon's client account "in circumstances amounting to the provision of a banking facility" while she was a junior lawyer at the firm. The payments are understood to have comprised part of a £1.9m fee paid by Newcastle United to a football agent.
Mishcon was fined £25,000 for failing to prevent the payments being made, and was ordered to pay £32,500 towards the SRA's costs.
Ellen, who trained at Mishcon and became head of its sports group before leaving in 2020 to set up her own consultancy, racked up costs estimated to be in excess fo £500,000, and after she was exonerated applied for a costs order against the SRA.
She said the case against her was "legally and factually flawed", while her barrister said she had been "singled out" by the regulator even though she was a "relatively junior solicitor" at the time. He pointed out that no action had been taken against the matter partner, or the 11 partners who authorised the various transfers*.
However, the SDT agreed with the SRA that the decision to prosecute was "plainly a reasonable one and the fact it has failed does not make it unreasonable", and that deviating from the default position of not awarding costs could "be used to infect the proper conduct of regulatory proceedings".
Ellen has 21 working days to appeal. Her solicitors declined to comment, which should save a few bob.
*although prosecuting the 11 partners would also have been harsh given it’s accepted practice for partners to sign whatever CHAPs form an associate puts in front of them, on the understanding that colleagues can be trusted not to send dollops of cash to, for example, geezers who have part-ownership of Craig Bellamy.
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