A Vancouver lawyer has been suspended from practising law for three months after reporting her own professional misconduct to the Law Society of B.C.
In a proposal to the law society’s discipline committee, Katrina Sriranpong admitted to improperly handling “some or all” of roughly $70,000 in funds from 17 clients by depositing them into her personal account, rather than a trust account.
That’s a violation of the law society’s accounting rules, but it’s one Sriranpong does not appear to have made maliciously, according to a summary of her consent agreement with the society posted on the society’s website.
“The lawyer did not think she needed to operate a trust account because she billed her clients fixed legal fees for a circumscribed scope of services, and she believed her clients had provided her with informed consent to treat their fee payments as her own property upon receipt,” the agreement reads. “As she did not operate a trust account, the lawyer did not maintain any trust records.”
According to the law society’s rules, Sriranpong should have held any advance payments received from clients in trust accounts or, if she was going to hold them as her own property, received “fully informed consent” from the clients in writing.
While Sriranpong told the discipline committee that she explained this situation verbally to clients during early meetings with them, she acknowledged that the clients may not have understood the definition of a trust account before providing their verbal consent.
Sriranpong completed all of the work she was hired to do, and no clients were missing funds, according to the consent agreement.
“The lawyer did not receive any financial benefit from her error, and her clients did not suffer any loss,” the agreement reads. “She has maintained positive relationships with many of her clients. Some of them referenced their satisfaction with and appreciation for the lawyer’s work in their supporting letters.”
The misconduct occurred between 2016 and 2018, while Sriranpong was taking on private immigration law clients. She has been a non-practising member of the law society since taking maternity leave in November 2018, according to the consent agreement.
As a result of the misconduct, she will be suspended for three months, from Jan. 17 to April 17.
The consent agreement notes that Sriranpong has no previous history of misconduct and has already completed three courses on trust accounting as a result of these incidents. It also notes her contributions to “the legal profession and society” as mitigating factors in the case.
“She is the only Thai-speaking immigration lawyer in British Columbia, as noted by some of her former clients, and many other Thai clients are awaiting her return to practice, so they can seek her assistance,” the agreement reads.
“The lawyer has worked with refugees and victims of human trafficking, and works with members of vulnerable groups. She supports charities dedicated to anti-human trafficking, especially of children, and those that assist refugees and promote animal rights.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Sriranpong admitted to improperly handling “some or all” of the funds, which had a total value of $72,703.04.