Published: 22nd November 2017
A top family solicitor has revealed that a meeting with a potential client was nothing more than an attempt to create a conflict of interest, in order to prevent the solicitor from acting on behalf of the other party.
The family solicitor, Raymond Tooth, met with the client to discuss their family law case, in what he believed was a standard consultation.
It was found by Mr Justice Williams that the client did not declare specific confidential information and that the meeting with Raymond Tooth, as well as two similar meetings on the same day with Mishcon de Reya and Stewarts Law, were arranged in order to conflict them out of the case. This became especially clear once it was highlighted that the client had agreed upon a retainer with Hughes Fowler Carruthers just a week before the meetings took place.
The Clients Meeting with Mr Tooth
A year later, the client realised that his wife had employed the services of Sears Tooth, leading him to object based on the fact that Raymond Tooth had been made aware of confidential information in their previous meeting. The judge was then required to find out whether the meeting did indeed take place, and whether or not the husband did divulge sensitive information to Mr Tooth. The judge found that the meeting had taken place, but refused to believe that such sensitive information had been relayed to Mr Tooth, therefore dismissing the application for him to be debarred.
The judge then also suggested that the client's representative was an unreliable individual. This was because he hadn’t mentioned that the retainer with his company was signed seven days before the meetings had taken place, as well as false claims about how much Mr Tooth was looking to charge per hour.
Dismissal of the Application to Debar Sears Tooth
When declaring the dismissal of the application to debar Mr Tooth, Mr Justice Williams said: ‘The overall picture that emerges is this was all part of long-term planning by the husband for possible future litigation in England. Those circumstances do not suggest that in initial meetings there would be detailed disclosure of confidential information as opposed to some general discussions about the approach of the lawyer and general discussions of jurisdiction. I consider it more likely than not though that by this stage there was also an element of ejecting those solicitors out of the pool of lawyers who the wife might consult.’ He went on to state the he was sure the client‘was not seriously considering instructing Sears Tooth and this undoubtedly influenced the nature of the meeting and the information given’.
Speaking of Mr Tooth and the meeting that took place with the client, Mr Justice Williams said: ‘He remains adamant he cannot recall anything about the meeting, which would be consistent with a short but uninformative meeting. I find it hard to ascertain why Mr Tooth would say he could not recall it if he could and why he would not have declined to act. As a solicitor with 50 years’ practice and with the reputation he has, what is one client more or less, why risk your reputation, indeed potentially more, if he was found to have misled the court over the matter?’
Mr Justice Williams concluded the matter by finding that no confidential information was discussed with Mr Tooth, and that the meeting was not how the client had described. Although he admitted that he cannot be certain what the meeting did consist of, he did state that he believed it to be a short one with no real facts or advice shared between the two of them. All of this had prompted him to reject the application for Mr Tooth and his firm to be debarred.
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