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.’
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.