"I've been made up to director. Yeah... that's right, made up."
A solicitor has been struck off for offering a non-existent training contract to a friend, and lying about being a director at his firm.
Andrew Cutland joined Somerset firm, Bartlett Gooding & Weelan Solicitors (BGW), in 2019, as an assistant solicitor. A woman, referred to as 'Person A', had known Cutland for a number of years, and the pair had worked together at Co-op Legal Services. Person A had considered Cutland to be a "long standing and close friend".
Person A was in the process of qualifying as a legal executive, and told Cutland that she was unhappy in her current job. In 2020, Cutland falsely claimed to Person A that he was being promoted to become a director/partner at the firm, and offered her a trainee solicitor job, which didn't exist. He said that the firm would pay for her LPC, provide a company car, and also give her a higher salary than other trainees; none of which was true.
Person A sent her degree and certificates to Cutland to progress the application. Continuing to be economical with the actualitié, Cutland told Person A that he was conducting interviews with other future trainees. Person A said she was excited about the opportunity, and Cutland encouraged her to inform her friends and family about the new job.
However, at a later date, when Person A asked Cutland to confirm when she should hand in her notice in her current job, in order to start at BGW in time, the solicitor became evasive. He told her that the training contract was being postponed by several months, as other trainees had dropped out.
Alarm bells started to ring for Person A when she found out that Cutland was married, as he had never mentioned that he had a wife. She also discovered that he had lied about senior positions he had held at other firms.
Cutland ignored requests from Person A to provide the names of the other trainees in her cohort. Person A got in touch with BGW directly about her training contract, only to be told that there was no position for her.
Person A made a complaint about Cutland to BGW and the SRA. She said that she felt "humiliated" and "completely duped" by the solicitor, and had told family and friends about the training contract, as well as her current employer, which made her work position "very awkward."
BGW investigated the matter and dismissed Cutland for gross misconduct in 2021.
The SRA has now brought the matter before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Cutland denied that he had offered a training contract to Person A or that he had held himself out to be a director/partner. He also disputed that he had been dishonest, and said that he had sent "innocent texts of a genuine nature which had been manipulated and changed by Person A to present a different narrative."
However, the tribunal deemed that Cutland's account about fabricating messages was "inherently highly implausible" while the evidence of Person A was "credible, consistent" and "reliable."
Dervla Nash, the BGW director who conducted the firm's investigation, told the tribunal that Cutland had "no regard for the effect his actions" on Person A, at a time when she was feeling very low about her work environment.
Nash believed Cutland could have stopped "the charade and saved Person A much heartache, but he persisted with his web of lies for his own sense of self-gratification". She added that throughout the firm's disciplinary process, Cutland "denied the claims in a nonchalant manner" and "at no point did he accept any responsibility for his actions nor show any remorse.”
The tribunal found that Cutland had acted dishonestly by holding himself out to be a director and offering the bogus job, when he knew he had no authority to do so. The panel concluded that Cutland's motivation "appeared to be one of self-importance and self aggrandisement".
On separate matters, the tribunal also found that Cutland had improperly withdrawn some money from a client account at a previous firm, when he was a trainee. And that he had also been dishonest to BGW about his employment history.
The tribunal struck him off the roll and ordered that he pay £17,489 in costs.