An experienced solicitor has been struck off after she “acted in flagrant breach of the trust placed in her by her elderly client”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Julia Cooper, who was admitted in 1993, drafted an agreement for her civil partner to purchase a property from her client, Ms S.
The tribunal heard the agreement “contained terms potentially disadvantageous to her client and potentially advantageous to Person G”, not least because the “substantial but dilapidated” property was set to be sold for £240,000 despite a later valuation of £450,000 being found.
Cooper also drafted a will for Ms S and appointed herself executrix and sole beneficiary. She claimed the will, drafted during the pandemic, was not considered “a legal matter” but was rather a “temporary document”. The SDT said:
“The tribunal did not accept that the respondent believed (either at the time she drafted the will, or during her evidence) that the will was not an important legal document.
When it was put to her that if there was nothing wrong in drafting the will, the respondent would not have attempted to find another firm to draft a will six months later, the respondent stated that it was ‘all about perception’…
… The tribunal found that it was clear that the respondent knew that it was improper for her to draft a Will for her client when she was to be the sole beneficiary of that will.
The tribunal found that in preparing the will, the respondent was acting where there was an own interest conflict, or a significant risk of an own interest conflict, irrespective of whether the will represented Ms S’s testamentary intentions.”
In striking off Cooper and ordering her to pay costs of £44,978.90, the SDT said:
“The tribunal found that the respondent was motivated by financial gain. Her actions were planned. She had drafted the agreement and signed and stamped it when she knew that no legal advice had been sought, and that she had not advised her client to seek such advice. The respondent […] acted in flagrant breach of the trust placed in her by her elderly client.”