uLawPractice Blog

‘Dishonest’ paralegal plays both sides, misappropriates $30k, loses licence

Posted by uLaw Editorial Team on Nov 9, 2017 7:44:29 AM

Among a swath of activities and behaviours unbecoming of a paralegal in Ontario, a Richmond Hill practitioner recently had his licence revoked by Law Society of Upper Canada Tribunal.

In its strongly worded Oct. 30 Tribunal decision, Paralegal Ping Lee was ordered to pay close to $90,000 in penalties to the LSUC to recover his debts and costs accrued after a long and bizarre 10 day hearing conducted regarding his "dishonest" behaviour.

"Mr. Lee’s misconduct is most serious. He misappropriated trust funds to pay office expenses and to pay himself. He put his own interests before those of his clients and blamed others, including vulnerable clients, for his conduct. He showed no remorse. There are no exceptional circumstances to warrant a lesser penalty than revocation. In order to maintain public confidence in the legal professions, the public must be able to have confidence that client monies held in trust will not be misappropriated by the licensee holding them," wrote Barbara J. Murchie, on behalf of the panel. 

Lee, who entered the profession in 2012, was found to have engaged in professional misconduct on numerous fronts. He took more than $30,000 of a client's money and tried to play both sides of a legal issue, therby conducting a massive conflict of interest. 

 

READ HERE ABOUT HOW TO AVOID CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WITH SOFTWARE.

Richmond Hill lawyer loses licence for conflict of interest

 

"There was no mistake or accounting error...He has not paid the money back to the client. Mr. Lee does not accept that his actions constitute misappropriation..," writes Murchie.

 

The LSUC also says Ping charged excessive fees to at least one client, which is one of the most common errors spotted by Law Society auditors in various jurisdictions across Canada when conducting a regular spot audit of firms. 

The Panel ruled Lee also acted in an "uncivil" manner with a client on at least one occasion.

 

BLAME GAMES AND POSSIBLE THREATS: PING'S DEFENSE

When provided time to explain himself and the numerous problems with his trust accounting,  Lee's circumstances were not deemed 'exceptional' by the Tribunal, which noted that he called the profession a "joke". [6]

One of witnesses he called in his defence testified by telephone because she allegedly felt threatened by him. [17]

First Lee told the panel that his paralegal training was to blame for his trust accounting issues. He said paralegals shouldn't be held to the same standards as lawyers when it comes to trust accounting because schools are purportedly not teaching what is required to become compliant. 

"Clients must be able to count on paralegals to handle the monies entrusted to them with complete honesty. Integrity is essential to the privilege of providing legal services to the public and to the privilege of calling oneself a paralegal licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada."

But Ping wasn't done with the blame game, and in fact the ruling indicates he blamed just about every entity involved except for himself. 

First Ping pointed fingers at his former partner, Mr. Freeman, a lawyer, whom Ping said should carry the brunt of responsibility for the firm's accounting. This arguement was swiftly squashed.

"He cannot blame his partner for actions that squarely fell within his duties within the firm."

Lee blamed his own client, whom he claimed did "not have clean hands". [10]

According to Lee, the Law Society itself is to blame for his lack of educational training and its lack of oversight and audits. He blamed the LSUC for not auditing him to correct his lack of understanding of how to not missapropriate his clients's money. 

Lee claimed paralegals don't understand trust accounting and that he is not alone, and that many other paralegals across Ontario similarly do not understand how to be compliant with their client's money.

The Law Society's response: "Mr. Lee disrespects his many paralegal colleagues who run their practices with honesty and integrity and in accordance with the rules."

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Topics: Law Society Tribunal Decisions, Ping Lee, misconduct, compliance, licence revoked, Barbara J. Murchie