Any solicitor should reasonably be glum now. No office will escape the consequences of Ireland’s financial troubles and, ignoring runes, we need only read the recent record of our neighbour, the UK, to see what those consequences might be.
Let’s start with the straightforward stuff; Thomas McGoldrick, a solicitor, stole £1.25 million from a client left paralysed (from the neck down) by a traffic accident. The judge sentenced him to ten years in jail. McGoldrick’s firm acted for the client in his personal injury action. McGoldrick met the client once and when the compensation was lodged in the client account McGoldrick treated it as his own, driving a Mercedes and Jaguar with personalised number plates and sending his children to expensive prep schools.
In the UK, as in Ireland, theft like this is, effectively, a charge on all solicitors; the Law Society Compensation Fund has to make good the loss.
Any normal person might go off the rails on hearing news like this. Take Esther Cunningham for example. She was defending her cousin on a dangerous dog prosecution but had to be escorted from court after kissing a solicitor, swearing at an usher and insulting the prosecutor while “fortified” with brandy. To her credit her legal representative said of her; “The forcible kissing of a solicitor is something that has been difficult to accept”. Who, among her colleagues, would not agree?
Distraction, even while remaining on the rails, so to speak, could also be easily foreseen following on such troubles. Consider how readily a solicitor, raffling a house, could forget to get a licence to run a lottery. The then-President of the Law Society , Paul Marsh warned his colleagues against launching prize draws because he feared that, as the recession deepened and house prices continued to fall, more people might be tempted to establish prize draws. He also feared that they could be used to conduct mortgage fraud or for money laundering. He pointed out that anyone found guilty of running an unlawful lottery faces a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine of up to £5,000 under the Gambling Act 2005.
One wonders whether Mr. Marsh was not himself distracted. Did he not know what many of his members were then doing? They were bribing people to get work for their firms.
A report described the practice in relation to the “miners’ scandal” in these terms;
“…some law firms charged fees to the miners out of their compensation awards. This “success fee” was often charged on the ground that the miner had been introduced to the solicitor by a claims handling company or trade union that had charged the solicitor to send the case to them.”
Bribing middlemen for work is the first step to full-time, big-time bribery. Get a scruffy office in Tottenham and become a bagman for Halliburton, delivering £100 million in bribes to Nigerian politicians. That’s a business model any Irish property developer would cheerfully take up. In this case it was a solicitor.
Strictly, as a business model it lacks something; the bribes are going in the wrong direction. Christopher Haan, a consultant solicitor knew that. Despite charging his client, Mr Abela £1.4 million in legal fees (on a share purchase), Mr Haan was clandestinely also advising a Mr Baadarani, who was selling his stake in the Italian company to Mr Abela. Mr. Haan got £400,000 from Mr. Baadarani.
“This is not a case of a technical conflict of interest,” Mr Abela’s, counsel told the court, “but of an intentional preferment of one client’s interests over another.”
Mr Haan’s actions, he said, were negligent, deceitful and a breach of contract towards Mr Abela, adding that simultaneously advising the buyer and seller of a company implied fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation.
Mr. Haan may have known what Mr. Seldon, another solicitor, did not know; that you can be pushed into retirement against your will (and will need every cent you can get).
Or, powerful vested interests lodge a complaint with your Regulator and, despite their tendentious objectives (the complainants were the opponents of the solicitor’s clients) you just survive the trial your Regulator puts you through.
Here in Ireland, being a Republic we, in theory, are no respecters of persons. Oops! Not so, perhaps.
In any event Michael Ford a client of Michael Napier, a former President of the Law Society lodged a complaint with the Law Society about Napier. Napier had represented Ford in a long case against Exxon Mobil, but Ford discovered that Napier’s firm had also been acting for Esso, a wholly owned subsidiary of Exxon.
Ford was not pleased about this. How could he now know that Napier did everything he could to vindicate his interests?
The complaint went nowhere fast. Only when it went to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission did Ford get a hearing. The Commission found that the Law Society’s investigation was a systemic failure.