Law firms face fraud probe after surge in allegations
GARDAI are investigating a growing number of allegations of fraud and embezzlement involving solicitors and other staff working in law firms.
The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has now called on law firms to install extra controls following a "significant increase" in complaints from solicitors who claim that staff are stealing money from their office and client accounts.
The frauds include:
- Lodging cheques destined for banks to clear mortgages to their own personal accounts.
- Lodging cheques destined for clients, and third-party cheques, to their own personal accounts.
- Transferring money to personal accounts by accessing the firm's online banking facilities.
- Issuing solicitors' undertakings to draw down personal loans without the knowledge of the firm.
- Obtaining property and credit union loans by forging solicitors' undertakings.
Some have tried to cover their tracks by returning the money before the fraud is discovered.
Last night, Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, confirmed that gardai were investigating frauds perpetrated against a small number of Ireland's 2,230 law firms.
"These are frauds on solicitors' firms, the public has never lost a penny as a result of these frauds," said Mr Murphy. "Any losses have been borne by the firms, not by their clients."
Firms throughout the country have been affected by the thefts allegedly committed by junior solicitors, legal executives, office managers, bookkeepers and secretaries.
Both long-serving and recently hired employees have been involved in the theft, according to the regulation of practice committee of the Law Society.
The legal profession is coming under increasing financial strain ahead of the publication of new laws designed to reduce legal costs and boost competition in the legal sector.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of solicitors are relying on charity from their fellow colleagues to deal with the fallout of the recession.
The Solicitor's Benevolent Association, a group that dispenses grants to solicitors in need, last year paid out €700,000 to members of the solicitors' profession. The grants were issued to 61 solicitors, half of whom are supporting children.