A young London lawyer claimed he was too scared of the environment in his office to admit he had lied about passing an exam the firm had paid for him to take.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that City firm Proskauer Rose LLP had funded Michael William Freeman to attend seminars and an exam for the Certificate of Proficiency in Insolvency. He skipped the exam at the end of 2016 but kept up the pretence he had passed for another 14 months, even citing his achievement in a mid-year review.
Freeman said his conduct was borne of a ‘fear of admitting failure’ and that his supervising partner’s aggressive approach made it difficult to talk over his issues. This submission was not accepted by the tribunal and the partner said there had never been any previous complaints.
Freeman, 32 this year, joined the firm as a paralegal in 2012 and was admitted as a solicitor two years later. He had agreed with one of his supervising partners that he would complete the CPI and the firm paid his course fees in full, despite the cost exceeding his annual training budget.
The tribunal heard that, after his firm became concerned whether he had in fact passed, Freeman came up with a series of excuses for not producing the certificate. He was dismissed following an internal investigation.
He told the SRA that he initially feared admitting his failure. He had opted not to take it because he had missed training sessions and was not confident he would pass. Having initially misled his firm, he could not find a way to tell senior colleagues what had happened. Freeman said he ‘panicked’ when asked to update his website biography, and he never intended the public to think he had obtained the qualification.
Freeman asked the tribunal to consider his state of mind at the time of the matter. He submitted that he had a heavy workload and said one of his supervising partners often spoke to him in an ‘aggressive tone and raised voice’. It was submitted this supervising partner told Freeman: ‘If you don’t like it, you can fuck off up the corridor and be a Lego lawyer’.
The SRA had put this point to the supervising partner, who had said it was ‘only healthy and natural’ that the firm had open and frank discussions and occasionally this involved swearing. He said neither Freeman nor anyone else had complained about the tone of his voice, and the reference to ‘Lego law’ reflected the need to avoid a ‘processor-like and overly simplistic and formulaic approach.
The tribunal found dishonesty proved and said that Freeman’s working conditions were not a defence to this allegation. He was given credit for offering to reimburse the firm and voluntarily notifying the SRA.
Even if, which was not accepted, he was working in a toxic and uncaring environment, it did not excuse his dishonesty. Freeman was struck off and must pay £9,324 costs.