Solicitor disbarred for misappropriating client fees

Paul Douglas Hills, a solicitor admitted in 1990, has been removed from the roll following his agreement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as reported by The Law Society Gazette.

Hills admitted to keeping client fees meant for his firm, Pengelly and Rylands, on multiple occasions. His misconduct, which spanned less than a year, involved retaining payments from clients, including fees for probate applications and oaths, amounting to around £3,147.

Hills joined the Kent-based firm in May 2017, focusing on private client work. His actions came to light following a client complaint in 2018 about errors in a legal document and the revelation of cash payments to Hills. A subsequent review uncovered instances where Hills received direct payments without recording them in the firm’s system.

Hills admitted to personally taking oath fees in eight cases, extracting small amounts from the firm’s petty cash. The firm had to redo and reswear several probate applications due to his actions. They also recovered the misappropriated funds through civil action.

In his defence, Hills cited long-term mental health struggles, including stress, anxiety, and depression, as contributing factors. He claimed these issues led to disorganisation and oversight, and he initially feared disclosing his mental health concerns to the firm. Despite his intentions to return the money, he failed to do so.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal described Hills’ conduct as “serious acts of dishonesty,” noting the vulnerability of the majority of the affected clients, who were elderly. In addition to being struck off, Hills was ordered to pay £15,000 in costs.

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