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Lawyer struck off for unregulated divorce practice

28 August 2019

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A family lawyer has been struck off after creating an unregulated online divorce service in order to avoid sharing the revenues with his firm.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Stephen Anthony Hogan was practising without authorisation or insurance for four years, and without a practising certificate in the last six months.

A consultant solicitor at dispersed firm Setfords, Hogan diverted leads away from the firm to his online venture, Divorce Assistant. The SDT said his motivation was “personal financial gain”.

Hogan worked for Setfords between June 2013 and December 2015, and established Divorce Assistant in May 2014, operating up until May 2018. During that time clients paid more than £60,500 into his personal bank account.

“On any analysis of the type of work the respondent undertook as Divorce Assistant, it was obviously operating as a solicitor’s practice, and thus required authorisation”, the SDT said.

The tribunal rejected Hogan’s argument that his online venture was filling a gap in the market and added: “That being the case, he would have been aware when Divorce Assistant moved away from that premise and was conducting reserved legal activities.”

It concluded that Hogan’s behaviour was “not the result of messy and muddled thinking”, finding that he was “aware of his obligations in all regards, but chose to act in breach of those obligations”.

Hogan admitted all but one of the allegations made against him, including practising without authorisation, carrying out reserved legal activities while unauthorised, practising without a practising certificate or insurance, and breaching the accounts rules. He denied acting dishonestly.

However, the SDT said: “Members of the public, whilst wanting to obtain good services at a competitive rate, would expect a solicitor who describes himself as such in order to obtain businesses, to be a solicitor capable of acting as such.

“Honest and ordinary people would consider misleading the court and clients, and knowingly acting in breach of regulatory obligations, to be dishonest.”

As well as being struck off, Hogan was ordered to pay costs of £39,500.

Categorised in:

Regulation Risk & Compliance Regulators Ethics, professionalism and judgement Family Divorce