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Twice-bankrupt solicitor who carried on practising struck off

Solicitor misled police and took advantage of vulnerable elderly client

5 May 2017

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A solicitor who continued practising for nearly six months after being made bankrupt for the second time has been stuck off.

Duty solicitor Alan Richard Birckbeck was working as a part-time consultant for Healey Kenyon McAteer Solicitors when he was made bankrupt for the second time in January 2015. He only told the firm in June that year and was immediately suspended.

Birckbeck had been made bankrupt before, in 2004, and was only reinstated in 2011, with the SRA imposing conditions on his practising certificate.

Ruling in SRA v Birckbeck, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said the 49-year-old lawyer had acted with lack of integrity by continuing to practise while bankrupt and failing to tell his employer, notwithstanding the personal difficulties he said he was going through at the time.

‘Whilst the respondent stated he did not appreciate a bankruptcy order automatically suspended him from practice, he tribunal found this hard to believe in light of the fact that he had previously been declared bankrupt in 2004 and on his own admission his practising certificate had been imposed with conditions,’ the tribunal said.

Birckbeck was also found to have acted dishonestly when he carried on practising, representing a client at a police station and saying he was from PDS, a local firm who had never heard of him.

Earlier, while bankrupt but still working for HKM, the solicitor borrowed £8,250 from another client. Mr A first lent Birckbeck £5,000 in cash, then £3,000, and finally £250 after the solicitor told him his car had been broken into and his wallet stolen, and that he needed the money to pay for a course.

The SDT said Birckbeck’s culpability was high, as he had repeatedly held himself out as employed and had misled police officers apparently in order to gain access to potential clients in custody. He had also taken advantage of Mr A, ‘a vulnerable elderly person, of limited means, and who had suffered identifiable harm’.

‘[His] conduct had been planned and had caused considerable harm to the trust the public placed in him and to the reputation of the legal profession,’ the tribunal said.

Further, the SDT said, ‘The was no evidence of genuine insight or remorse from the respondent. Indeed his explanations about practising in ignorance while bankrupt were not credible.’

Proceedings took place without Birckbeck being present after he failed to respond to emails. The initial substantive hearing was adjourned a day before it was due to take place after Birckbeck called the day before to say he had had a bereavement.

He was notified of the rescheduled hearing by email but only made contact on the day of the hearing itself, in a voicemail to SRA counsel Robin Horton, who had left a message on his phone earlier that day.

Birckbeck said he had made clear he intended to be present at the hearing but the SDT said the solicitor had been given several opportunities to engage and had chosen not to.

Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief of Solicitors Journal

jean-yves.gilg@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @jeanyvesgilg

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Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal SDT bankruptcy strike off dishonesty lack of integrity