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Manager barred for making ‘improper payments’ to own account

A manager has been disqualified from taking on roles in law firms after he was found to have transferred more than £500,000 out of the client account – most of which went into his personal bank account.

Lee Darien Kerr, who is not a solicitor, was a manager at Sutton-based firm Porter & Co Law Limited, between 24 March 2021 and 6 October 2021, when the Solicitors Regulation Authority intervened into the firm.

The regulator found that between June and September 2021 Kerr made improper payments from the client account for his own personal benefit. According to the decision notice, Kerr ‘continued to do so even when he knew there was an SRA investigation into the firm’.

It added: ‘He misled the SRA by providing false information in a firm closure notice form in August 2021. He said the firm had ceased trading and held no client money. This was not true, and Mr Kerr continued to take client money for his own personal gain. He also wrongly stated that the firm had a waiver or exemption from the requirement to hold professional indemnity insurance when this was not true.’

Though the SRA recovered some client money through intervention, a ‘substantial amount’ is unaccounted for.

The SRA found Kerr made improper payments totalling £19,744.09 from the firm’s client account between 22 June 2021 and 28 September 2021.

He also transferred £113,782.86 from the firm’s client account to the firm’s office account with client consent and in September 2021, Kerr transferred £572,930.94 out of the client account in relation to a probate matter he was dealing with. Most of the £572,930.94 was transferred into Kerr’s personal bank account, the SRA said.

Kerr was found to have breached the SRA Accounts Rules, and the SRA Principles 2019 as well as the SRA code of conduct for firms.

The SRA described Kerr’s conduct as serious, adding: ‘It was deliberate, it was dishonest and lacked integrity, it caused significant loss to clients and it posed a risk to the reputation of the firm and the wider profession.

‘It was found that it would be undesirable for Mr Kerr to act as a Head of Legal Practice, Head of Finance and Administration, a manager or an employee of a body licensed in accordance with section 99 of the Legal Services Act 2007. Mr Kerr was disqualified from holding any of these roles.’