The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has suspended a solicitor for 6 months for creating "inaccurate" Facebook posts about her firm's achievements.
Irina Schwab was the sole shareholder of eponymous firm Schwab & Co Legal Services. She was also one of the two directors of the firm, along with her husband Adrian.
Between December 2017 and January 2019, Schwab posted the following updates on the firm's Facebook page, trumpeting a string of supposed successes:
- "Great result at Cambridge Magistrates Court! So pleased and proud to be able to represent our client, who eventually managed to prove her innocence!!!"
- "Double win today! Watford Family Court - successfully fought and suspended a prohibited steps order preventing a mother to leave the jurisdiction with the children. Milton Keynes County Court - successfully defended a set-aside application. The other party banned from making any further applications. Well done Irina Schwab and Adrian Schwab!"
- "Colchester County Court, 2nd January 2018. Successful eviction hearing on behalf of a landlord by Schwab & Co."
- "And another great result in Romford County Court by Adrian Schwab - a successful 'set aside' application for a client who realised too late that he had a CCJ against him."
The glowing posts were accompanied by photographs of court buildings, to perhaps convey authenticity.
However, the SRA investigated Schwab when it suspected her of breaching various regulatory rules. During the investigation, an SRA officer found discrepancies between Schwab's Facebook posts and the dates of the court hearings.
The solicitor admitted to the SRA that the bragging posts were "incorrect" and "misleading", as they related to occasions when "neither she nor someone from firm attended court." She described the posts as "pure marketing" to show that she was doing "some sort of activity" and "being active."
The SRA said that Schwab had shown a "lack of integrity" in trying to give the impression that her firm "had more business" than it had actually undertaken. The lawyer's actions in posting the inaccurate updates amounted to a breach of the rules requiring solicitors to "behave in a way which maintains the trust placed by the public in them," said the SRA.
The SRA also found that Schwab had breached other regulatory rules, such as failing to nominate a money laundering officer and incorrectly operating a client bank account.
In mitigation, the SRA found Schwab was not dishonest or that she had "deliberately or knowingly" acted in breach of the SRA's rules. Schwab's conduct was "borne out of a lack of understanding, rather than an attempt to mislead her regulator, or conceal matters from them", said the SRA.
In an agreed outcome with the regulator, Schwab was suspended for six months, with various restrictions put in place for two years after her suspension (such not becoming a sole practioner, or owner of a firm for that period). Schwab also agreed to pay the SRA's costs of £15,000.
I love the way she posted that a client "had proved their innocence" - which is something you don't have to do when accused of a crime.
So is suspension appropriate for lawyers who claim they are super busy when they are not?
As "me" at 07.29 says, it's a bit worrying when a Solicitor thinks the burden of proof falls on a criminal defendant. Never mind suspension - maybe re-education in first year law?
Puffery 04 March 22 07:41
It should be grounds for suspension or even being struck off.
A partner in my team regularly spouts off in team meetings and team zoom calls about being flat out. During lockdown he’d join Monday morning team calls with the well-worn phrase “flat out all weekend on client work”. The other partners in the team just looked on uncomfortably. Unbeknown to the partners, the team had sight of the billables and we all knew that said flat out partner billed sub-300 hours last year.
Similar to a former boss of mine. We had a dual qualified move to Dublin to start up a team there. He worked his balls off and really made some impressive moves which led to more clients- it was all his hard work and the name that clients wanted. Suffice to say those higher up were told by said boss that he had done all of those things.
[escaping puppy] And then the Judge paused, and then made eye-contact. He nodded and smile crept across his face. He began to applaud me. Then it spread out across the court. And out into the hall. And down the street. He invited me to his home that night to dine with his family and and the rest - well, a gentleman doesn't boast. [/escaping puppy]
15k costs - ridic.
@ Harpo Marx - we have a partner in our team who is exactly like that. Everyone laughs about it.
The Hammers 04 March 22 16:32
We are in the same team I think; everyone laughs at him as we all know he’s a charlatan.
Maybe the first post was the clue she was telling fibs - the burden of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecution, not the defendant.