A trainee at Ropes & Gray has been banned from the profession for forgery.

Louise Bolderstone was a trainee at the US firm's London office from August 2016 until her departure in February 2018.

In order to disguise the fact that a share certificate had been lost (it happens), Bolderstone created a new one (fine) and traced the client's signature onto it (ah). She then sent the dummy certificate to a third party, telling them, and a Ropes & Gray colleague, that it was the original.

The SRA decided that Bolderstone's tea-stained attempt at spycraft meant that she had been dishonest, lacked integrity and undermined the trust the public placed in the provision of legal services, breaching the SRA Principles 2011.

But because she wasn't a solicitor, it could not punish her directly. Instead, having found that she engaged in conduct "of such a nature" that "it would be undesirable for her to be involved in a legal practice", it used section 43(1A) of the Solicitors Act 1974 to bind all solicitors to keep her out of the profession.


CHARE

"Great work everyone, I just had a couple of questions about the certificate."


Having begun a promising career at a US firm enjoying a £50,000 salary as one of Ropes & Gray's seven or so second year trainees, she is now locked out of law, with the SRA ordering that no solicitor, recognised body or employee of either can employ or pay Bolderstone without permission from the regulator.  

For failing to come clean about a lost piece of paper, Bolderstone was also given a written rebuke, fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,600.

A spokesman for Ropes & Gray said, “This is a SRA matter and, as such, it would be inappropriate for us to comment. We can confirm that Louise Bolderstone no longer works at the firm.”

Sometimes the high-pressure environment in which a junior lawyer is found to have worked has been a factor in their exoneration, such as last year when a paralegal was cleared by the High Court for his role in his boss' fraud. Not always, though. In 2015 a trainee was banned under the same statute for forging his law degree and LPC certificate. In 2016 a junior associate at DLA Piper was struck off for forging court documents. And, earlier this year, an NQ was struck off for overcharging clients, even though she was bullied by partners and reported the fraud to the SRA.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

El Capitan Anonymousio 14 June 19 09:05

Gotta wonder how many times something like this happens without it getting picked up. I bet it is more that people think.

Sad case all round, in that it was not fraud for any real personal gain but just to cover up what was probably an immaterial mistake in the grand scheme.

Lesson, as always, to juniors is that it is never better to cover up a mistake (and especially not to lie about one). Sometimes hard to reconcile this with the high pressure City environment though.

Dearie 14 June 19 09:40

Got to question the supervision and working environment if she thought this was a better option than to ask for help. Sadly though, firms can be unforgiving to those who do admit mistakes and until the SRA can come down on them, the trainees and juniors will continue to take the fall. The only hope is that the client is similarly unimpressed with the lack of supervision and goes elsewhere.

Dearie 14 June 19 09:43

PS - when I was a trainee in days of yore, it was seen as completely acceptable for lawyers to add old or copied signature pages to contracts (including property documents). The Mercury Tax case was a complete revelation to many!

Anon 14 June 19 10:06

Good result.  If she thinks forgery is the right option for something so trivial, then there is little doubt of her reaction years down the track as a senior lawyer when something really important goes wrong.

Anonymous 14 June 19 10:09

I feel a great deal of sympathy for the initial mistake, but very little for the subsequent dishonest cover up. This was not a question of failure to supervise, it was straightforward document fraud. You don't need to be a partner or even a qualified solicitor to realise that faking a document and then tracing a signature onto it is just plain wrong.

Anonymous 14 June 19 11:31

Get a grip guys! Low level admin fraud is essential to the smooth functioning of any legal business. Its not fraud if no one is harmed or receives undue benefit. Its merely a necessary evil thanks to the incompetence of your fellow workers losing documents or not signing stuff correctly

Anon. 14 June 19 11:38

This is a classic case of someone who just panicked and did the worst thing she could do in the circumstances. We have all been there as trainees - it's a high pressured environment, you already feel incompetent and let's be honest, the associates and partners at some firms are about as approachable as hammerhead shark (and just as hard to look in the eye). I have been there when for a split second I considered pretending something was fine but obviously knew the right thing to do is to own up to it and just let the flaming commence. I think it speaks volumes about the firm and the environment she was in that she felt fraud was a better option than owning up to a very minor mistake.

Nayland18 14 June 19 15:48

"It could not punish her directly..."? Fining somebody £2000 seems quite a direct punishment to me.

Anonymous 15 June 19 01:46

My heart aches for this lady. The slopey, Teflon-coated shoulders of her supervisors should bear the weight of this. 

In law or any profession/industry/work place it is the responsibility of management in whatever guise to foster an environment where problems are aired and shared and those doing so are part of the solution. Those that don’t are part of the problem. 

Several years after qualifying I moved to a board level role in the finance industry (CF1 as it happens) and am now a partner back in private practice. The FCA is crystal clear on where the buck stops. It stops with senior management. They are the ones responsible for everything that happens under their control. 

I am afraid to say that law firms are infantile environments. Junior staff are scared witless. Junior staff are so worried about getting into trouble that they attempt to hide problems - of their making or otherwise. These problems may be their fault, but they are not their responsibility. The cause is a separate issue and should be addressed separately. 

Senior solicitors and partners need to buck up. The regulator needs to grow up too. It’s plain as day what led to this fiasco - a trainee so fearful of her own managers that she honestly believed her disastrous decision was the least worst option.   

Those paid the most shoulder the most responsibility. Fee earning is only part of the role of senior management. Risk management, pastoral care and creating an open, supportive and collaborative environment are central tenets. Clients aren’t clueless. They know the firms that do this and the firms that do not. The clients that don’t care are the clients that are simply not worth having.

If I sound lofty and pious then I would encourage all solicitors to spend time in a business they respect and take back to private practice the lessons they’ve learned. It would have a transformative effect on the legal profession and see incidents like this consigned to history. 

If Louise Bolderstone wants to chat, then I’m sure RoF will facilitate a meeting. 

Donny D 15 June 19 04:21

A sad case and I do feel (very) sorry for her but surely nobody can really think this was the wrong outcome?  She forged a signature on a document. You just can’t do that! 

Anonymous 20 June 19 13:33

This just shows the type of toxic envirnments created by these law firms that make trainees think that they can't own up to their mistakes and feel the need to commit fraud as the lesser of evils....she had probably worked really hard to secure her TC and is now essentially banned from working in the professions, this is more of a reflection on these law firms rather than what she did