Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lawyer jailed for £90k embezzlement demonstrates need for independent regulation & greater protection of clients funds

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland ‘ineffective’ at protecting client funds from crooked lawyers. Despite the Law Society of Scotland's claims to vigorously police their members, particularly when it comes to the question of protecting clients funds, headlines in the media this week report that yet another solicitor has plundered his client accounts to the tune of £90,000, and, it would seem only due to extensive media interest in the case, was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months for his crime.

The solicitor in question in this case, is William Rennie, an apparently respectable family solicitor and upstanding member of the Ayrshire community. He was as it turns out, anything but that, as the Scotsman reports :

The Scotsman : "In one case, Rennie banked £30,000 which was intended to pay off a mortgage following a divorce, writing on the cheque stub that it had been used to settle the mortgage. On another occasion, £15,000 was paid into his account but was disguised on the stub as a bequest to a friend of the deceased person."

"One divorcing couple had asked Rennie to keep the money from their house sale, which was to be split between them, until they needed it. But instead Rennie paid himself £10,000, writing on cheque stubs that the husband and wife had each received £5,000."

Rennie's embezzlement of client funds was apparently discovered in July 2004, some five years ago, when he used clients' money to pay a VAT bill in a bid to avoid legal action.

Five years to bring him to trial and eventual sentence so it would appear we don't seem to have a very speedy justice system when it comes to jailing crooked lawyers ... and curiously enough, while the Scotsman report ends with the point that clients have been compensated, the Law Society of Scotland have given no financial breakdown of who received how much in terms of compensation from the Guarantee Fund, and how long they had to wait for it.

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, Director of Standards and in charge of complaints at Law Society for 20 years. The actions of William Rennie in plundering his client accounts is a fairly typical & regular occurrence, particularly in the current financial downturn it would seem, as complaints from clients rocket against solicitors who are looting their clients funds for their own benefit. The Law Society meanwhile, despite having the same person in charge of complaints & standards for nearly two decades, Mr Philip Yelland is engaged in the usual knot tying exercises in drawing out complaints investigations for months, even years to prevent any damaging headlines for the profession and to withhold any prospect of compensation for clients for as long as possible.

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission still to decide on monitoring Guarantee Fund. Even with the new 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in existence, little is currently being done to monitor the claims process by clients who have been ripped off by crooked lawyers, as the commission is still to decide on exactly how it will monitor the controversial Master Policy insurance scheme of Scottish lawyers and the Guarantee Fund compensation scheme run by the Law Society of Scotland, itself revealed to be little more than a badly run ploy which can delay paying out on frauds involving client money for years, even decades in some cases.

I wrote a recent article on the state of the Law Society of Scotland’s Guarantee Fund here : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption

AdvisoryAdvisory on Client Funds over Guarantee Fund’s poor performance. In fact, from what I have heard in terms of the sheer numbers of complaints involving solicitors stealing clients funds and almost wholesale embezzlement carried out by lawyers even in some of the largest legal firms in Scotland, it appears to have become so dangerous to leave your money with a solicitor, I issued a Client Advisory some weeks ago relating to the safety of client funds, which you can read here : Advisory : Clients must protect their money from unsafe legal firms as Law Society's Guarantee Fund fails

As I said in the earlier advisory, you are better off not handing any money over to your solicitor or their legal firm for safe keeping, because its simply not safe to so do, particularly in today's financial climate, and of course taking into account there is nowhere near enough money in the Guarantee Fund to pay for the amount of client fund fraud & embezzlement by solicitors which is currently going on in Scotland.

The fact of the matter is that reserves in the Guarantee Fund only amount to a paltry £1.7 million at this time, and with significant outstanding claims standing at £4.3 million, together with incoming claims expected to reach double figures in the millions this year over buy-to-let & mortgage fraud schemes, there seems little prospect of clients recovering anything from solicitors who decide to take the money for themselves.

Even while I have written this piece, a solicitor somewhere in Scotland has probably dipped into their client accounts to do much the same as William Rennie and hundreds of his colleagues have done previously.

If you want to protect your own money rather than see it disappear into your solicitor's back pocket - bank it yourself, because your solicitor cannot be trusted, and the Law Society's Guarantee Fund can guarantee nothing.

The Scotsman reports :

Pillar of community to prison – downfall of a crooked lawyer

Published Date: 19 May 2009
By Campbell Thomas

A LAWYER who took nearly £90,000 from unsuspecting clients has been jailed for a year.

William Rennie, 56, traded on his image as a respectable family solicitor and upstanding member of the Ayrshire community.

But he secretly siphoned off cash from the proceeds of divorce cases and family wills after his business collapsed.

Jailing Rennie yesterday, Sheriff Alistair Watson told him: "A solicitor has a special place of trust in the lives of people and the abuse of that trust is always extremely serious."

In one case, Rennie banked £30,000 which was intended to pay off a mortgage following a divorce, writing on the cheque stub that it had been used to settle the mortgage.

On another occasion, £15,000 was paid into his account but was disguised on the stub as a bequest to a friend of the deceased person.

One divorcing couple had asked Rennie to keep the money from their house sale, which was to be split between them, until they needed it.

But instead Rennie paid himself £10,000, writing on cheque stubs that the husband and wife had each received £5,000.

The crimes came to light in July 2004 when Rennie used clients' money to pay a VAT bill in a bid to avoid legal action.

He ceased trading in November 2004 after the Law Society became involved. Rennie told police: "I must have been crazy."

He admitted embezzlement from his firm, Rennie and Co, in High Street, Irvine, between June 2002 and September 2004.

He was originally charged with taking nearly £140,000, but the Crown reduced the amount when he agreed to plead guilty.

Rennie, of Kilmaurs, was cleared of failing to obey a court order relating to earlier bankruptcy proceedings after his guilty plea.

Sarah Livingstone, defence advocate, said Rennie got into financial difficulties after his partnership with another solicitor dissolved in the 1990s. He faced rising staff costs and diverted money from clients' accounts to keep the business afloat.

Miss Livingstone told Kilmarnock Sheriff Court: "As serious as this is, and he knows it is, he has lost everything. Nothing was hidden and it was obvious he was going to be caught. He just buried his head in the sand."

Rennie was suffering serious health problems because of the offence, Miss Livingstone said, adding: "He was not living the high life."

In 2006, Rennie was found guilty of professional misconduct after allowing a house to fall into ruin. The Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) heard he had been asked to handle the estate of a couple who left no wills after dying just weeks apart.

But he took no action for nearly three years, then refused to co-operate with a Law Society of Scotland probe.

After the ruling, Rennie was placed on restriction and banned from practising without supervision. He was struck off as a solicitor in December 2007.

Rennie's victims had been repaid through a fund contributed to by all Scots solicitors, the court heard.

He refunded £70,000 of the money after selling his home and cashing in endowments.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Watson told Rennie he recognised he was a "broken man" who had shown contrition.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another lawyer another crook and all because the Law Society handles regulation of lawyers and supposedly protects client interests.
This slcc is also as big a failure as you always said it would be.
If MPs are not going to be allowed to make their own rules neither should lawyers,doctors,bankers or anyone else.
Kill self regulation DEAD.

Anonymous said...

"pillar of the community" just like MPs and now they are all bloody crooks

Anonymous said...

"and curiously enough, while the Scotsman report ends with the point that clients have been compensated, the Law Society of Scotland have given no financial breakdown of who received how much in terms of compensation from the Guarantee Fund, and how long they had to wait for it"

Yes this level of detail always seem to be omitted.

Probably because no one ever really gets fully paid back for how much has been stolen.

Anonymous said...

Oh Mr Yelland again.I know all about him.

One of those who should have went with Douglas Mill.

Anonymous said...

Yes what a disgrace.

He has been at it since 2002 and here we are SEVEN years later and he eventually goes to jail for 12 months (probably out in 4 at the most).

Disgusting.How many more William Rennies are out there ? Probably thousands

Anonymous said...

The Law Society cant be trusted to look after client funds - they have as many crooks working in the Society itself as outside it within the membership.

I am also reliably informed that one member of staff at the Law Society has quite a record you should be looking into.

Anonymous said...

If you want to protect your own money rather than see it disappear into your solicitor's back pocket - bank it yourself, because your solicitor cannot be trusted, and the Law Society's Guarantee Fund can guarantee nothing.

HOW RIGHT YOU ARE MR CHERBI.
EVEN WHEN LAWYERS ARE CAUGHT THE SYSTEM TAKES A LOT OF TIME TO JAIL THEM.
IF I HAD MY WAY THE LAW SOCIETY CHIEFS WOULD BE INSIDE WITH HIM.

Anonymous said...

AOL NEWS.

The Catholic Church was aware long-term sex offenders were repeatedly abusing children while working in Ireland's church and state-run institutions, a damning report has revealed. (CLEARLY THE REPUTATION OF THE CHURCH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN CHILDRENS SAFETY).

The Child Abuse Commission detailed a catalogue of disturbing and chronic sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted on thousands of disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children by both religious and lay staff over the last 70 years.

The dangers to the children were not taken into account, the inquiry found. (SHAME ON YOU ALL).

Judge Sean Ryan, who chaired the commission, concluded that when confronted with evidence of sex abuse, religious authorities responded by transferring the sex offenders to another location, (JUST LIKE THE NHS WITH DOCTORS) where in many instances they were free to abuse again. (CLERGY ARE NOT AFRAID OF JUDGEMENT DAY) THEY CANNOT BELIEVE GOD IS THERE.

EVEN KIDS ARE NOT SAFE WHEN REPUTATIONS ARE AT STAKE. SICK PEOPLE INDEED.

Anonymous said...

I agree

Self regulation is just a crooks charter to do as they please and no better example of it than Westminster expenses and all these lawyers getting away with whatever wongs they do to their clients.

Get rid of the entire concept of self regulation.

Anonymous said...

Mr Cherbi

The legal system as you know shuts down on those who want justice against a law firm. This is a form of modern day slavery, where access to justice is denied because some lawyers will be fried. Naming and shaming you are all doing is the way top go.
Finally twelve months porridge for stealing money, quite lenient.

Scotland is seriously f*cked with lawyers said...

He should have got 10 years

Anonymous said...

THIS WAS TAKEN FROM AN EARLIER ARTICLE.

The best comparison the Law Society could come up with, against an independent complaints sytem for lawyers, was to warn us that Scotland would be heading for dicatorship, Mugabe style, if lawyers were not able to regulte complaints against their colleagues. Mill continues his rant about Zimbabwe in his Herald interview ... "There is no modern democracy where the executive controls the legal profession," he warns. "That sort of thing is more likely to happen in a place such as Zimbabwe than in a modern democracy."
Mill's fixation with this rather ill advised line, was also supported by of the 'guests' to a recent conference at the Law Society was the ex-head of Zimbabwe's Law Society .. testified as to his own experiences under Robert Mugabe, and that Scotland was heading into the same dictatorship if they forced solicitors to face an independent complaints system !
I think most people seem to regard Douglas Mill's 'Zimbabwe defence" line now as being slightly over the top .. even some of Mill's stooges now balk at that arguement .. one of them who writes in the Scotsman privately calling him a "nutter" (how true) ... but as I have said before, cynically using the suffering of a people under a dictator to try to justify keeping a well known corrupt complaints sytem in place so that lawyers can cover up for lawyers .. is, to say the least, an astounding departure from common sense, but, quite indicative of the desperate tactics employed by Mill & his bunch to thwart any chance of reform to their cosy business model which has seen tens of thousands of clients ripped off over the years by Scotland's uncontrollable legal profession.

MR MILL, WE HAVE LEGAL DICTATORSHIP RIGHT NOW, LAWYERS COVERING EACH OTHER'S BACKS AND MANY EX AND FUTURE CLIENTS WITH NO LEGAL REMEDY. YOU REALLY HAVE LOST THE PLOT WITH THE ZIMBABWE HYPOTHESIS.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 2.01pm

I agree.The root of these problems lie in the fact that lawyers self regulate themselves, and the SLCC as it stands is not independent.

Only truly independent regulation of the legal profession will bring an end to these scores of crooked lawyers and thousands of deliberately mishandled complaints by the Law Society.

# Anonymous @ 2.43pm

Exactly.

# Anonymous @ 3.27pm

I agree completely. The Law Society never give a full report on who gets paid what from the Guarantee Fund, nor the length of time the victims have had to wait to receive their money after it was stolen by their solicitor.

# Anonymous @ 4.34pm

I agree.

# Anonymous @ 4.54pm

Yes, probably thousands.

# Anonymous @ 5.20pm

Any further details on that tip ?

# Anonymous @ 5.57pm

I agree entirely !

# Anonymous @ 6.07pm

Yes, and plenty legal firms made lots of money protecting the church from such claims ... now those legal firms should be named and the whole thing brought out in the open.

# Anonymous @ 6.13pm

I agree.

# Anonymous @ 7.41pm

Yes, and more naming & shaming in as many forums as possible .. not just the internet ...

I would encourage those who have fallen victim to crooked lawyers to publicise their names in as many places as possible, leaflets, flyers, the lot.

Many of these 'crooked lawyers' also seem tied to political parties in some way or another ... and publicising of such relationships between crooked lawyers & local politicians may well be productive in the current political climate ...

# Scotland is seriously ... @ 8.19pm

I agree.

# Anonymous @ 8.44pm

Yes, and the dictatorship at the Law Society carries on, as forthcoming articles this week will reveal ...

Anonymous said...

The SSDT are as big a bunch of crooks as the Law Society.
I have a friend who made a complaint to the Law Society then they took it over for themselves,watered down the complaint and sent it onto the SSDT who fined the solicitor after he stole about £7,000 and refused to pay it back so there's another thief still working as a lawyer for your list.
Scum the lot of them

Anonymous said...

Mps - many of them lawyers - have now been forced to recognize that self-regulation is totally unacceptable, surely the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates must be next.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely spot on about affiliations between politicians and solicitors.

A friend of mine who works on the Scotsman (who has many good things to say about you) said to me that several lawyers who were well known to the press for being crooked also give donations to the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP.

One of these solicitors (now sacked) actually stole from disabled clients to fund his rise in the Tory party.

Keep up the good work Peter.I hear you inspire many with your writing and I admire you for your resilience in all this.

Anonymous said...

Yes he will probably be out in 4 or 5 months.What a joke of a sentence.

No appeal from the Crown Office either so that's as good as saying they approve of lawyers stealing from their clients.

Anonymous said...

The comment at 104pm I full agree with - no appeal against such a lenient sentence shows us the crown office are just as crooked as the lawyer.

He should have got 5 years at least and from what I read I bet he took a lot more thank 90 grand

Anonymous said...

# Anonymous @ 6.07pm

Peter you said,

"Yes, and plenty legal firms made lots of money protecting the church from such claims ... now those legal firms should be named and the whole thing brought out in the open". I agree Peter.

If God is there Peter, (I doubt it) the lawyers and clergy cannot believe in judgement day, because they would fry in hell.
On a personal basis I believe the church is more about economics than a creator, the control of money and power. The clergy earn a good living telling us the god story, a good motivator for trying to convince the public god exists.
Child abusing clergy and their lawyer protectors are not fit to judge others.
If it could be proven beyond all doubt that there was no god, the churches would not have a reason to exist. Their jobs would go, that is what the god story is about. Child abusing clergy cannot believe in god because scripture talks about judgement day. Clearly they think god is not there or conversely they think they will be forgiven for abusing kids. Child abusers in any form are vile evil people.

Anonymous said...

A very convincing report Mr Cherbi.

I see no hope for the Law Society or this new slcc in cleaning up the legal profession.There will always be crooked lawyers and there will always be hangers-on who control the whole complaints process.

To clean the mess up those people need to go, and the Law Society must cease to exist as a regulator.

Good luck in your efforts.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is why it took until 2009 to bring this crook to justice when anyone else ripping people off would have been jailed long ago.

This Law Society is just an obstruction to real justice and they should all be arrested and jailed along with this Yelland and his colleagues for presiding over all these crooked lawyers.

Anonymous said...

The house of commons speaker had to go. He stood in the way of reform. If the FOI Act applies to our elected politicians, it is only a matter of time before the FOI Act applies to the Law Society, what a stink that will be.
Time and time again we seen that those in positions of power cannot regulate themselves, because self regulation = injustice for others.

Anonymous said...

1 rotten apple goes to jail for a few months while a few thousand remain on the loose - that is how the Law Society manage things !

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments & emails on this article.

As the Westminster expenses scandal shows us, self regulation is a system of regulation which breeds corruption and protects the guilty .. my experiences with the Law Society of Scotland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland have shown me that.

The public must be educated that self regulation is not in the public interest, and as a regulatory concept, must be ended nationwide.