Solicitors leave straight and narrow as debts rise

DISHONESTY among solicitors is on the up as they struggle to cope with growing debts, claims a Law Society report.

A progress report to the society's council on the campaign to crack down on fraud admits to only limited success since its launch two years ago.

Though it identifies evidence defaulters are being discovered earlier with lower “shortages” on accounts, the report warns of a likely growth “in the small number of those who seek the dishonest solution”.

The paper cites reports from the SCB and the Professional Ethics Unit that many firms face financial difficulty. It adds 422 firms contacted the Professional Ethics Unit last year with financial problems.

“Most dishonest solicitors leave the straight and narrow because of their wish to solve financial problems caused by a deficit in the relationship between the cost of their lifestyle and the income of their business,” the paper warns. “The first stage in this process is often the theft of a 'temporary loan' from the client account.”

At the council meeting last week, adjudication and appeals committee chair Chris Heaps said he regretted Compensation Fund contributions were being frozen and not reduced this year. But he expressed “cautious optimism” that the position would improve soon.