Report prompts exit of Law Soc treasurer

Law Society treasurer Michael Howells has resigned after The Lawyer obtained a copy of an independent solicitor's report to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau (SCB) on his handling of a personal injury claim.

The investigation, which was conducted by an independent solicitor because of the sensitivity of the former treasurer's position, related to his handling of a claim while senior partner at Milford Haven firm, Price & Kelway, when he was advising the client's legal insurers.

The report is highly critical of Howells' role in the case and upholds several of the complaints made by his client.

“The standard of service throughout this matter was below that which might be expected from any solicitor, especially one of Mr Howells' experience,” the report said, adding that the situation had been aggravated by his perception that the insurers were his client and not the complainant.

The SCB initially recommended that Howells' case be heard by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, but Howells won an appeal against a referral.

Eventually, the SCB issued a severe internal rebuke for professional misconduct and ordered Howells to pay his client £1,000 compensation for inadequate professional services.

Howells told The Lawyer that he rejected a number of the findings of the independent solictor's report, including that he lied to his client, had asked his client's insurers to help him conceal a “blunder”, and had ignored the contents of a medical report.

Howells strongly denies these accusations, which were also rejected by the SCB.

He revealed the following details of the SCB rebuke:

Howells failed to recognise the complainant was his client and not the legal expenses insurers and he continued to act for the complainant despite the conflict of interest.

He improperly concealed information from his client when writing to the insurers.

He failed to provide adequate advice on the conduct of the case generally and on the issue of special damages in particular.

It was Howells himself who originally revealed the existence of the SCB rebuke, when, last month, he said he wanted to avoid the possibility of a cover-up. SCB reports are usually confidential.

Until last Thursday's council meeting he had appeared determined not to resign, having claimed earlier that the rebuke did not relate to his integrity and honesty.

But he announced his decision to go during the meeting, saying it had been “reinforced” by the fact that the independent solicitors' documents had been leaked.

Howells said he didn't want his conduct to be “the focus of attention at a time when the Society needed to concentrate on more important matters.”

The SCB immediately announced an investigation to determine how The Lawyer obtained the confidential report. SCB director Peter Ross, said: “I take a serious view of the leaking of papers, since the confidentiality of our work is of paramount importance.”

Howells is replaced as treasurer by Michael Mathews, the Clifford Chance partner who is deputy vice president.