It's hard not to inflate, when everyone else is doing it

A head of department has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for dishonestly providing exaggerated billing figures when applying to join Dentons and Hill Dickinson.

Tracey Ann Sheehan was an experienced solicitor and the head of telecommunications at Hill Dickinson. The SDT found that Sheehan had inflated her billing figures when she applied to join Dentons as an equity partner in 2015, following a move from Taylor Wessing. And also when she switched firms from Dentons to Hill Dickinson in 2017.

According to a report in the Law Society Gazette, the SRA cited an example to the tribunal where Sheehan told Dentons she had billed £220,000 on one matter, when she had actually only billed £3,837. Sheehan denied that she had acted dishonestly, and told the tribunal that the figures to Dentons did not represent the amount she had actually billed, but what she would have billed at Taylor Wessing, had she had sufficient resources.

Between 2016 and 2017, Sheehan applied to join Hill Dickinson as a partner, and gave them a business plan with her billings at Taylor Wessing and Dentons. The SRA said that Sheehan said that she had billed £1.4m in one year at Dentons, when she had billed just £177,000 over her two year stint at the firm. 

The matter was brought to the SRA's attention after Dentons spotted a discrepancy in Sheehan's purported historical billings and her earnings. Dentons requested Taylor Wessing to disclose information about Sheehan's billings during her time at that firm. In 2017, following an investigation by both firms, Sheehan was reported to the SRA.

Sheehan's lawyer told the tribunal that Taylor Wessing did not record billing figures in the same format at Dentons requested. And he also said that Dentons had concerns about Sheehan before she started at the firm, and had wanted to "oust" her.

The tribunal struck Sheehan off the roll, and ordered that she pay costs of £51,615. The decision is open to appeal. Roffers have been opining on the case on the discussion board

"We note the outcome of the SDT's prosecution, which follows a report we made to the SRA in 2017 regarding representations Ms Sheehan made during her recruitment process prior to joining the firm in 2015", a spokesman for Dentons told RollOnFriday. 

Hill Dickinson, Taylor Wessing and the SRA declined to comment. Sheehan's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. 

Tip Off ROF


ThemToo 18 June 21 09:35

A lot of nervous laterals are pulling up their partner application forms......inflating billing figures is very common in the lateral market, and is openly encouraged by recruitment consultants.


Anonymous 18 June 21 10:09

Agree with ThemToo. This goes on so much. I never really understood why people seem to think that there is nothing wrong in trying to secure a package off the back of totally fabricated numbers. When the new firm "gets the joke" as the actual billings the new hire achieves for them are rock bottom there are no consequences because whoever got them in doesn't want to look a fool. 

Dearie 18 June 21 10:24

When I was applying for jobs a few year ago I brought a copy of my year end financial performance report to the interview. I guess I could have doctored it somehow but would have been tricky. If your figures are as good as you say, you can always prove it. 

Recent leaver 18 June 21 12:53

Around 50% of lateral partners at SPB London fit into this mould. Brought in with big fanfare as “leading rainmakers” with mostly bogus billing numbers/fake books of business, only to sit comfy for two or three years billing peanuts and siphoning money. 

Once clueless management finally catches on, they vanish into a “consultant” role at one of those obscure firms where old lawyers go to shuffle towards retirement. 

Awful, awful firm.

Mobius Strip 18 June 21 13:49

Let's be honest - partner interviews generally consist of two parts:

a) potential partner lying to the firm about themselves, their clients, their billings, etc; and

b) the firm lying to the partner about their culture, track record, aspirations, collegiality, good culture, etc.

Fools game.

Anonymous 18 June 21 14:07

I work for a partner who massively time dumps on my files and sorts out the billing. I am not the only victim. Her figures are through the roof - she gets bonuses on the back of defrauding her team - the juniors see their realisation rates scuppered and despite trying to highlight the issue in gentle terms to the powers that be, we get knocked back every time. 

Anonymous 18 June 21 15:09

Part of the Drizzle Maker approach. 

Land on a bed of dishonesty. Try and last 3 years. Get pushed out. Rinse and repeat.

Year 1 - "this is the transition stage, trying to port clients, let's do some press releases and tell the market"

Year 2 - "um yeah, it's been hard getting the clients to sign off moving across due to the existing contract at my old firm"

Year 3 - "I will take the opportunity to move on. Now please remove the gun from my head".

Partner in Crime 19 June 21 07:34

To anon at 14.07- none of your business. The Partners own the firm. It’s between them. It merely reduces the money available to other Partners and if they are too thick or weak to deal with it then more fool them. Time in the system is merely an entry, unless it is billed. If this Partner is billing fraudulent time report to the SRA and claim whistleblowing protection. Then get your 6 figure pay out to leave with your conscience clean. 

Anon 19 June 21 09:20

I moved firms a few years ago to one that “valued its staff above all else.” I was very careful to check there was an inclusive, meritocratic culture. They told me there was; with charming smiles & friendly banter.

Guess what? I now work in a toxic sweatshop where I see solicitors driven to MH crises by the pressure on billing/ hours. Where bullies are not tackled. Where promotions are only given to face-fitters and where diversity is non existent at partner level.

I bet the SRA wouldn’t be interested in any of this.

Anon 21 June 21 15:44

I'm a partner and was on the hiring committee once for a senior partner joining from my old firm.  He completely lied about billings in his papers (I knew for a fact that big clients he claimed as his were most definitely NOT his clients) but there was no point in pointing this out.  The firm was desperate to hire him and wouldn't have taken notice of me.  Surprise, surprise, none of the "clients" came and he was let go with a nice fat package a couple of years later. 

Also happened last year with another lateral hire - he has bought in less than £10k of his own client work in 18 months and instead is hoovering up work from the (much better but female) incumbent partner.  It astounds me that this is allowed to continue.

I also recognise many of the terrible behaviours listed in the comments above.  Some of us are decent human beings but we just get dumped on too...

Anonymous 21 June 21 18:44

Often bad new joiners are allowed to remain so the firm's reputation (ego) isn't damaged. I worked for a firm that took on a team rejected by about 6 other firms who all laughed at us because they saw how it would end in tears.


It did end in tears.

Anon 24 June 21 11:50

stage 1: lateral partner lies about his book of business to hiring committee

stage 2: hiring committee inflates these numbers to make the case look even more compelling for the dumb partnership that is to vote for the candidate

stage 3: stupid firm thinks they can't fire the lateral despite ridiculously low billings for reputation reasons 

Related News


Don’t miss your best career move. Receive approaches from top law firms and in-house employers when they want someone just like you.