Lawyer who allowed paralegal to act as lawyer suspended for 3 months
A lawyer with 21 years of experience was suspended for three months yesterday for allowing an employee to masquerade as a lawyer with clients.
Mr Jonathan Tan was a consultant at Whitefield Law Corporation when he hired Mr Colin Phan - a lawyer who did not renew his practising certificate - as a paralegal in January 2015.
Mr Tan agreed to take over Mr Phan's files and to share about half of his legal fees for helping him do legal work such as drafting documents. Fee-sharing arrangements with people who are not authorised to practise law are prohibited under rules of the legal profession.
In January and February 2015, Mr Phan sent five e-mail messages to three individuals in which he represented himself as a practising lawyer. Mr Tan was copied in the e-mails.
These wrongdoings surfaced during investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) into Mr Phan, who has since died. A complaint to the Law Society was lodged against Mr Tan by the CAD.
Last year, Mr Tan pleaded guilty before a disciplinary tribunal to two misconduct charges, one for failing to exercise adequate supervision over Mr Phan and the other for the sharing of legal fees.
The tribunal found that the case was serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which has the power to suspend or disbar lawyers.
Yesterday, in a remote hearing, Senior Counsel Siraj Omar, representing the Law Society, sought a three-month suspension. Mr Tan, who represented himself, agreed with the recommendations. The court agreed a suspension was warranted and the fact that Mr Phan was a lawyer did not make Mr Tan's misconduct any less serious.
"An unauthorised person who operates without a practising certificate exposes his or her clients to possible loss in the process because such an unauthorised person does not possess the necessary professional indemnity insurance cover," said Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang on behalf of the court.