Solicitor struck off for arrangement of sale well below the property value

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has struck off a woman who helped arrange for a vulnerable woman to a property at a cost well below the market value, the Law Gazette reports.

Julia Cooper practised under the name of J Cooper Solicitors in Bow, East London. The tribunal heard that she drafted the sale agreement, where the property was undersold at £250,000 less than its market value, knowing that no legal advice had been sought and that she had not advised the woman to seek legal advice.

She also knew she should not have drafted the Will for the woman, who died last year, as Cooper herself was the sole beneficiary and sole executor.

‘Led astray by kindness’

Cooper told the tribunal that she had been led astray by her own kindness and had supported the woman over many years, collecting her shopping and paying bills.

But the tribunal found she had taken advantage of someone described by Cooper as ‘frail’ and tried to conceal her conduct. The tribunal concluded that Cooper was motivated by financial gain and her actions were planned. The judgement said, “[She] had acted in flagrant breach of the trust placed in her by her elderly client.”

The tribunal heard it was not disputed that Cooper drafted, witnessed and ‘stamped’ a property sale agreement between the woman (who had instructed Cooper on a probate matter) and her own civil partner. The sale price for this property was listed as £200,000, but by the time of the attempted purchase, Cooper was aware that the property had been valued at £450,000.

Purchase facilitated

The tribunal said that Cooper facilitated the purchase and was involved in the instruction of other solicitors for both the woman and her civil partner.

The former solicitor argued that no file was open, and no payment was received and therefore the woman was not her client. The tribunal, however, found clear evidence she had acted as the woman’s solicitor and had referred to the woman as her client on many occasions.

Cooper denied misconduct over the Will and said the woman had expressed a wish for her to draft it, even if would have been better for someone else to do so. The tribunal said that Cooper’s assertion that the document was intended to be temporary was “incredible” and that it was clear that she was acting where there was a conflict of interest.

The tribunal added that members of the profession wouldn’t expect solicitors to prepare wills where they were the sole beneficiary and executor without making sure the client received independent advice, and that this applied even if the testator was adamant about the terms of the will and anxious for it to be drafted and executed.

The tribunal struck Cooper off and ordered her to pay the £45,000 costs.

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