A trainee who padded client bills by a total of almost £3,000 has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. 

Michelle Craven, who was a trainee at Cheshire-based MLP Law, was accused of dishonesty and a lack of integrity by the SRA after she overcharged clients by £2,991.50 for 20.2 hours of imaginary work in 2018. The units were added to a time recording system while Craven was a final seat trainee.

Craven admitted claiming time for work which she had not done, but denied she had been dishonest or breached any SRA principles.

According to a report in the Law Gazette, she told the tribunal that MLP had a culture of anticipatory billing. Andrew Bullock, acting for the SRA, argued, “If that culture did exist, and we do not accept that it did, then she should simply have declined to join in.’


inflated costs trainee

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


Craven also said she had been suffering from anxiety because of excessive working hours and unrealistic deadlines, and that her colleagues in the firm's wills, trusts and probate department were “oppressive and unapproachable”.

“They should have known the stress they were putting me under by offloading their work on me”, she said.

The tribunal agreed that Craven, who represented herself, was not dishonest and had not breached any SRA principles. Although she was instructed to pay fixed costs of £3,000, the SRA was told that it would have to pay the remainder of its costs.  

Her exoneration follows the outcry which met the SDT’s decision to strike off Claire Matthews. The NQ lied to her colleagues to conceal the fact that she left confidential client documents on a train, and has since crowdfunded a warchest to appeal the verdict.

Tags
Tip Off ROF

Comments

Anon 31 July 20 09:20

Fully appreciate the importance of honesty and integrity, but the SRA has become too aggressive yet again in its pursuance of junior lawyers. It is actually ridiculous to let it get this far.

“If that culture did exist, and we do not accept that it did, then she should simply have declined to join in.’ - clearly Mr Bullock and the SRA have never been a junior lawyer at a busy law firm. At that level, the pressure to follow the team is immense and could feel as though your career is over if you don’t join in. Ironically, it almost was.

Anon 31 July 20 09:33

Sorry, while I understand the outrage at the prior (harsh) SRA decisions in junior lawyers' cases, how in the world could they conclude in this case that recording time for "imaginary work" (which it seems she admitted to doing) "was not dishonest and had not breached any SRA principles"?

Anonymous 31 July 20 09:40

So remember kids, you absolutely mustn’t lie at all under any circumstances, other than those circumstances in which it’s okay to lie.  

Anonymous 31 July 20 09:57

Presumably the entire workforce of every City law firm would be next on the chopping block if she'd have been found guilty of this.

Anonymous 31 July 20 09:59

Why the f*ck is the SRA gunning for junior lawyers and not the senior people who direct them.

And, more significantly, why are the SRA not working closely with the NCA to identify which law firms are assisting foreign intelligence agencies, bad actors or even acting as agents themselves.

Anonymous 31 July 20 10:02

If you read the article on the Lawyer, it wasn't imaginary work, it was time or work she was yet to do. In other words, she pre-recorded time.  

Dearie 31 July 20 10:13

Quite literally the whole point of being a trainee is to do as you are told and the supervisor's job is to take on liability for the work they produce and how they produce it. Cannot fathom why SRA do not look at supervisors and what they were doing.

Still, I think it's dishonest. Sure, if the SRA checked everyone the industry would fall over but I managed to never pad a bill in over 13 years.

Anonymous 31 July 20 10:14

Anticipatory billing and inflating  bills is so common EVERYWHERE yet, the SRA chooses to go after a trainee with mental health illness at a small Cheshire firm nobody has heard of. Get after those firms on banking panels FFS!!! 

 

Anonymous 31 July 20 10:28

time dumpers exist throughout the profession. It's the stupid silly game created by hourly rate measurements and agreements. Say you're on a rubbish panel contract with an hourly rate around £100-140 p.h. People just inflate their hours to increase the fee income. 

Anonymous 31 July 20 11:14

That quote from Andrew Bullock is a joke. It needs to be understood and accepted by the SRA that juniors may "learn" misconduct from their supervisors, and have it sold to them as appropriate behaviour. Depending on the severity of the misconduct, the knowledge and experience of the junior may not be sufficient to notice it or out it as misconduct. 

Where are trainees and juniors supposed to learn about billing practices other than from their supervisors? You don't get taught the intricacies of billing practices in law school. Many service providers charge for services up front, so if you're told "it's fine to charge for work you know you are going to complete, because we need to bill today" then who are you, as a trainee, to question that?

In these circumstances, it should be the supervisor or the firm that answers for the misconduct.

You are all at it 31 July 20 12:58

This is endemic.  Firms reward such behaviour by promoting those who do it 

Anon 31 July 20 14:43

At least common sense prevailed in the end.

It says it all about our regulator that this young and clearly suffering junior/trainee has been dragged through what could only have been a nightmare ordeal yet, no mention of an investigation into the practices and conduct of supervisors and partners in the firm.

 

Anon 31 July 20 18:55

Bill padding making the news? Jesus Christ, it’s rife in the City.

ive just spent the afternoon billing and on every bill I’ve had to cull time due to bill padding. On one matter the same SA has, apparently, spent 12 hours a day for nearly 10 days doing “SPA” or “DD”. In reality she’s done about 8 hours of DD in total and has never touched the SPA.

Her hours may look good but her appraisal is going to reflect the above.

 

 

 

Anon 31 July 20 19:02

Why is always junior solicitors the SRA goes for? The buck stops with the partners. Until that is addressed these issues will always arise. Totally unrealistic to expect a junior employee to do anything than ask "How high?" when asked to jump.

Canary Worf 31 July 20 22:38

I am aware of non-legal but regulated businesses where everyone is given a time allocation according to a modelling tool and the client is given a fixed fee. Ive seen cases where fee earners just put their allocation down and the client gets ultimately charged the fixed fee. Everyone gets the job done and doesnt faff around with time sheets. Presumably in the law that is considered dishonest - even though the client is far happier than where it gets some ever increasing number that bears no resemblance to some initial ‘estimate’. Or would that be acceptable if the engagement letter was based upon a fixed fee?

Sounds like something of that nature was happening here.

And what everyone else said about going after a trainee in these circumstances. Utterly pointless, nasty and ridiculous.

 

AbsurdinessBrown 01 August 20 08:19

Time recording should have been set aside when the 8th Level of Hell was remodeled to accommodate all the Big Tobacco Lawyers.

While dishonest lawyers at any level should be pursued, the idea that a trainee should slide between the possible ethical gaps in her firm is a bizarre one to state publicly.  Her firm should be the one footing the fine for sending out a bill that was clearly not checked.

I don't see this as a striking off offence myself, but her statements betray an inability to accept personal responsibility.

Wildoat 01 August 20 21:15

Finance directors and accountants have inculcated partnerships on the ideological imperative of time recording. Their standing assumption, on which they are utterly inflexible, is that any time spent on a matter is billable. The partners, many of whom wouldn’t know their five times table, swallow the dogma hook line and sinker.

The result is an almost blind devotion to measuring input - actual or anticipatory - and recording it. It’s utter lunacy. The focus is so demented it disregards the minor issue of “output”. Clients and the quality of the service they receive are more often than not considered an after thought. 

Clients aren’t daft. They know precisely what’s going on, but they also know they’ll be shafted wherever they go so just suck up the irritating friction cost their lawyers charge.

It’s such a shame. It’s ruined the profession, but try and convince the beneficiaries to operate on any other model than the one which is lavishing them with money. No chance. It will change and clients will drive it, as some are already. 

The partners in this case are morally revolting. The SRA is not fit for purpose and some poor young solicitor has been publicly destroyed for their failings. It’s disgusting.

I say this as a partner left all too often open mouthed with astonishment at finance meetings.

 

Nick 03 August 20 13:30

Clearly Mr Bullock has never charged a brief fee as a barrister, if he considers anticipatory billing to be dishonest.  

The return of Rumours 03 August 20 15:09

I'm sorry but this is a disgrace... she admitted to putting down time she hadn't worked.

What would have happened if she had been removed from the file - "oh sorry I've got to take some time off the system which I'd put down but not done".......?

 

She was clearly taught to do this - the supervising partner should be carpeted as well as her.

Theft, basically.

 

Anonymous 05 August 20 20:13

blah blah blah blah blah

 

It's fraud. It's dishonest. She deserved to be struck off.

Related News