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Tribunal clears solicitor of misconduct over Zoom call
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06 Oct 2023 / britain Print

Tribunal clears solicitor of misconduct over Zoom call

A veteran director of international law firm Eversheds Sutherland has been cleared of misconduct over secretly listening in to a Zoom call, according to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales.

Ronald Paterson was accused by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of conduct that was “tantamount to espionage” after being specifically told he was excluded from attending, but he insisted that he was merely listening on the instruction of his client.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal cleared him of taking advantage of a third party and misleading them, after finding that he was entitled to attend the meeting and relay what was said to his client.

The tribunal did not accept the characterisation of Paterson’s actions as ‘eavesdropping’, and said that he was entitled to know what was said at the meeting, and to take his client’s instructions in that way.

Board meeting

The tribunal heard that Paterson was reported to the SRA by another firm, Travers Smith, four weeks after an online board meeting of a company called Stratospheric Platforms Limited.

Paterson’s client was chairman of the company, and a meeting was to be held in May 2020 about his possible removal from the post.

Paterson received a Zoom invitation in advance, but was told on the morning of the meeting by Stratospheric's chief executive that he was not authorised to attend. The client insisted on a poll of directors about the decision to bar Paterson at the start of proceedings.

Paterson listened to the meeting for almost an hour and a half, without board members knowing he was present. Immediately after, he explained that this was a “split-second decision” that he recognised was an error of judgement.

Paterson later told the tribunal that this initial response did not reflect his true opinion, but was said as a means of defusing the situation.


According to the Gazette, the SRA submitted that Paterson’s conduct was “tantamount to espionage”, and no different in essence from listening outside the door or standing under an open window.

The regulator argued that the solicitor had failed to act with “moral soundness, rectitude and steady adherence to an ethical code”, and that he had abused his position by giving his client an advantage over other members of the board.

Paterson said that he had acted with integrity, and he believed that he was entitled to listen to the meeting – and that this was necessary to be able to provide proper advice.

‘No proof of intent’

The tribunal said that the SRA had failed to prove that Paterson abused his position by taking unfair advantage of the other participants. There was no proof of intent from Paterson to take unfair advantage, and also no proof that he had misled others.

The tribunal said: “In order to have misled any of the participants of the meeting, Mr Paterson would have needed to have said something that caused the participants to believe that something was true when it was not. He did not in fact say anything; nor did he hear any misrepresentation and fail to correct it.”

The tribunal found that, while the concept of a solicitor listening in to a meeting from which they were excluded might be “uncomfortable”, in the circumstances it did not amount to professional misconduct.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland