A solicitor who ignored restrictions on his practising certificate and worked as a sole practitioner when he was not meant to has been suspended by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Lateef Abolade Kareem, who was born in 1966 and admitted in 2004, was suspended for six months at the hearing last month.
He had been suspended by the tribunal for three months in 2010, after allegations that he had breached code of conduct rules and “acted recklessly” were proven. Subsequently the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) imposed conditions on his practising certificate, including that he could not operate as a sole practitioner.
Mr Kareem, who appeared in person unrepresented, told the tribunal that he was “only trying to make a living for himself” and that the conditions on his practising certificate meant “very few firms were willing to take him on”.
In email correspondence Mr Kareem, who admitted appearing before the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, initially claimed he had practised as a “freelance solicitor” and reportedly told the SRA: “I have a practising certificate. I’m entitled to work.”
In oral evidence to the tribunal, he said he had “misused the word ‘freelance’”, maintained that he had never acted as a sole practitioner, and described the allegation as “baseless”.
The tribunal was critical that Mr Kareem had not mentioned the names of several firms he had worked for until the hearing. He said he had been asked not to mention the firms as they were concerned they would be investigated by the SRA. He was grateful to them for giving him work and had no written contracts with any of the firms.
The tribunal considered the practice framework rules and held that he was not an employee and neither was he exempt under rule 10.2, which said “If you are a solicitor… you will not be regarded as practising as a sole practitioner… if… your practice consists entirely of work as a temporary or permanent employee and any firm which employs you takes full responsibility for you as an employee”.
Finding Mr Kareem “had been practising as a sole practitioner and had therefore failed to comply with his legal and regulatory obligations”, the tribunal said his “answers were often vague and ambiguous”. His reluctance to answer questions put by the SRA meant “the tribunal did not find the respondent to be a credible witness”.
Mr Kareem said in mitigation that “if he had breached the rules, he had done so unintentionally and was sorry”. He had been “struggling to earn £12,000 per year at most”.
The tribunal found his culpability was “at a medium level” because “the actions giving rise to the misconduct were planned to the extent that he worked with a number of firms over a period of years” and “was a solicitor of some experience”.
The appropriate sanction was not that he should be struck off, but in order to “both punish the respondent and deter others while being proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct”, he should be suspended for six months.
The tribunal reduced a costs bill submitted by the SRA for £27,755 to £21,155 on the grounds that “some of the times claimed were excessive”.
Unusually, before the hearing began, the SRA successfully applied to withdraw two further allegations had had become “unsustainable” because the authority no longer had “full faith in” witnesses it had intended to call.