Is your lawyer SRA-registered? The clients who were scammed and lost thousands
A law graduate who promised clients “award-winning legal services” was paid thousands of pounds by clients yet failed to deliver the promised services.
Company director Craig Johnson is under investigation after one of his companies Totally ADR Ltd held itself out to provide expertise in family law. Mr Johnson however never qualified as a solicitor or barrister. This not only means he cannot normally represent client at court in England & Wales, but holding himself out to be a qualified legal professional is a criminal offence.
The BBC reports that Mr Johnson was found to have registered eight companies, all seeming to offer legal services. In addition to holding himself out as a qualified legal professional, Mr Johnson referred to himself as a “McKenzie Friend” who are people carrying out services that do not require formal legal training and help people who wish to represent themselves in court: a “litigant in person”. For reference, a McKenzie friend has no right to exercise rights of audience and no right to conduct litigation (unless they are granted one or both of those rights by the court, in which event they will no longer be acting as a McKenzie friend).
In December 2021, three McKenzie friends who worked for one of Mr Johnson’s companies, complained to CILEx Regulation. Mr Johnson is found to have misled people into thinking one of his companies was regulated by an approved legal regulator and had failed to disclose that he had been arrested and questioned by police over allegations of fraud.
Mr Johnson has also been taken to court by a client which led to an admission to the High Court that he had sent the client a “divorce certificate” which not only took months to arrive but turned out to be forged.
The outcome for his clients has been devastating. Upon discovering that Mr Johnson had not done what he was supposed to do, Phil and Jenny (not their real names), who had taken out a loan and paid Mr Johnson £2,400, were forced to find the funds to pay a real solicitor to prepare for the real court hearing, an experience which Phil describes as having left him “in a financial hole”. Mr Johnson also advised Phil that the court had said his daughter could spend more nights with him. Phil acted on this advice until the family court emailed to inform him that he was in breach of the terms of the Court Order. Phil describes the experience as leaving him “suffering with anxiety and depression” and he “can’t get my brain to switch off”.
A Facebook page created and endorsed by former clients sets out further accounts of made-up court hearings, private documents taken and not returned, documents not being submitted and clients having to pay out substantial additional funds to real solicitors to handle their cases.
It is important to stress that the legal profession is highly regulated. All qualified legal professionals must account to the SRA, consistent training is required and practising certificates must be renewed every year. If your lawyer is not SRA-registered, they are not subject to the same training, regulations and standards of practice that are essential in a profession where integrity and professionalism are paramount. Family law proceedings are challenging enough for clients without the stress of discovering that you have been scammed out of thousands of pounds, without resolution.
Prospective clients should always carry out a simple search at: https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/ before paying funds to someone holding out to be a legal professional. The alternative could otherwise cost you more in the long run.
If you would like to speak to any of our solicitors who are all SRA-regulated about family law matters, please contact Fiona Apthorpe or call 01332 254 124.