One verdict on the SRA's decision.
The SRA has suspended a solicitor who practised without authorisation on probate matters and charged legal rates.
Susan Lebreton-Towell was the sole principal of eponymous firm Lebreton-Towell Solicitors from 1998 to 2016, when it was closed.
After that date, she carried out probate work for LT law, a company owned by her non-solicitor son, which was not authorised by the SRA.
The regulator received 22 complaints concerning matters the solicitor worked on, over a period of just over two years.
In one case, Lebreton-Towell charged “significant sums of money for legal work," at legal rates despite not working in "an authorised environment”. The SRA said that the experienced solicitor, who was admitted in 1994, should have been familiar with the practising requirements.
In another matter, the solicitor was appointed as executrix for a client, Mr K, who died in December 2017. She charged "legal rates" of £200 per hour for work which included 12 hours on house clearance and eight hours attending an auction.
A law firm, appointed by Mr K's children, complained that it took Lebreton-Towell three months to provide a copy of the will, by which time the client had been buried contrary to his wishes. However, Lebreton-Towell said the burial was in "accordance with a family member's instructions."
In another case where she was co-executrix of an estate for a deceased client, Lebreton-Towell failed to provide terms and conditions for her work to her co-executrix, which resulted in HMRC fining the estate for non-returns (although the penalties were later cancelled). A law firm for the co-executrix complained to the SRA about the lack of communication by Lebreton-Towell.
In an agreed outcome with the SRA, Lebreton-Towell admitted that she practised as a solicitor and conducted reserved legal activity at legal rates when not authorised.
In mitigation, she said that she "genuinely and honestly believed" she was entitled to practise as she did, but accepted "with the benefit of hindsight" that she had breached the solicitor rules.
The SRA suspended her for three months and she agreed to pay £16,000 in costs.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal approved the suspension stating that the solicitor had failed to act in her clients' best interests or protect their money and assets, and had failed to act with integrity.