A solicitor who continued to practise as a sole practitioner after being barred from doing so has been suspended from the profession.
Lateef Abolade Kareem, admitted to the roll in 2004, had been prevented from acting as a sole practitioner in 2010 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority through conditions on his practising certificate.
The conditions remained in force until 2013, at which point Kareem appealed against the decision to impose them. That appeal was unsuccessful and he was still restricted from practising as a sole practitioner for the 2013/14 year.
At a two-day hearing last month, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard the SRA had written in 2014 asking for Kareem’s recent employment history. He responded to say he had been practising as a ‘freelance solicitor’ for several law firms doing mostly appeals at the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal.
In a subsequent telephone exchange between Kareem and the regulator, the solicitor had said: ‘There was a job that needed to be done. They asked me to appear so I appeared.’
Kareem denied working outside of the restrictions on his practising certificate and said he had used the term ‘freelance’ in the sense of being a locum. He said he was unaware that the definition of 'employed' in the SRA glossary included those working under a contract for services, as distinct from a contract of service.
Kareem explained he had an arrangement with two firms which shared the same address: if he had introduced a client to them he would receive 60% of the fee, and if the client had been referred to him by the firms he would receive 40%.
He was always paid in cash by the firms and said he rarely had enough money to pay income tax.
He admitted to using his home address on some court documents rather than the address of any individual firm, saying he did not want the papers to get lost.
Kareem maintained he had never acted as a sole practitioner and was ‘surprised’ at being subject to disciplinary proceedings, suggesting he felt like a victim.
The SDT heard that Kareem could not be considered an employee and so was relying on an exemption to the rules that say a solicitor is not regarded as being a sole practitioner if his work is as a temporary employee or any firm took responsibility for him as an employee.
The tribunal said he had produced no documents setting out his role in the business, his duties, the arrangements for paying for his workspace, his training requirements or indemnity insurance status. It found no evidence that any of the firms referred to by Kareem had taken full responsibility for him as an employee and found he had been working as a sole practitioner.
In mitigation, Kareem said any breach of the rules had been ‘unintentional’ and that he was trying to make a living for himself.
But the tribunal found he had given ‘partial and misleading information’ to the SRA and was also ultimately motivated by trying to get around the rules.
‘His motivation was therefore financial in that the arrangements were to enable him to work. The actions giving rise to his misconduct were planned to the extent that he worked with a number of firms over a period of years.’
He was suspended for six months and ordered to pay £21,155 in prosecution costs.