That German-Singapore Lawyer

Law, Lies, and Videotape

I was work­ing for Samuel Seow Law Cor­por­a­tion when its founder and man­aging dir­ect­or assaul­ted female staff mem­bers at his office last year. When videos of this sur­faced a few days ago, my mobile phone ran hot. A few sen­sa­tion­al­ists were fish­ing for gos­sip (wrong num­ber, guys), but the major­ity had an actu­al desire to talk. For the first time ever I couldn’t respond timely to every­one who con­tac­ted me. That’s why I’ve writ­ten this post.

Work­ing at Samuel Seow Law Cor­por­a­tion made for a tur­bu­lent past year filled with pub­lic drama, work­place abuse and prom­ises of reform­a­tion. If this were a screen­play, it would be rejec­ted as too hyphy. But life writes the most hys­ter­ic­al stories.

The abuses of Samuel Seow, the founder and man­aging dir­ect­or, were first repor­ted just over a year ago, albeit without video foot­age at the time. The many on social media were hav­ing field days. The abuse vic­tims, less so, but after a while the media atten­tion waned. Everything flared up again, though, since we can watch what was going on back then.

The Workplace

I star­ted work­ing for Samuel Seow Law Cor­por­a­tion as a con­sult­ant in early 2017. To say I loved it would be stretch­ing it, but the con­sultancy con­stel­la­tion was a reas­on­ably good deal for me and the col­leagues were nice. Some of them have become friends. The staff (not I) called Samuel boss. It was a 老板 thing, which doesn’t res­on­ate with me, but it wasn’t an issue. Indeed Samuel and I got on well. On a good day he could be a hoot.

But as it turned out, his tem­per often made it unpleas­ant to be in his pres­ence. Tan­trums were com­mon and some days were even worse than oth­ers. There were people at whom he would not scream, though, like his seni­or sec­ret­ary, the COO, or me. We made vari­ous attempts to talk sense into him, but in vain.

When I saw no change for the bet­ter in the medi­um term, I decided to put dis­tance between me and Samuel, and to work from home. Lucky for me, my inde­pend­ent pos­i­tion allowed me to do that, unless I was meet­ing a cli­ent or wanted to pick up my monthly cheque. Most of my not-so-priv­ileged col­leagues left after their per­son­al tol­er­ance reserves were used up. There were suc­cessors who came, saw, and left as well. And so on. Indeed per­son­al assist­ants, account­ants and law­yers were trans­it­ory items at Samuel Seow Law Corporation.

The Abuse

I wasn’t in the office on that fate­ful day in April 2018, when Samuel didn’t just throw a tan­trum, but turned phys­ic­ally abus­ive towards female col­leagues. One of them made a police report and com­plained to the Law Soci­ety. An audio tape of the incid­ent was leaked to the pub­lic and a ver­it­able shit­storm came over Samuel. If you were in Singa­pore at the mater­i­al time, there’s no way you didn’t hear of it at least, if not more. I chose not to listen to the audio tape at the time. Instead, I listened to my col­leagues who were there.

I also listened to Samuel when I called him out on the incident.

Why I Stayed

Samuel was dev­ast­ated and shell-shocked by the media frenzy, social media to be more pre­cise. He seemed wrecked by the exper­i­ence and appeared to be remorse­ful. More import­ant to me, he seemed to under­stand he had to make a drastic change, the hard­est change con­ceiv­able to most of us: a genu­ine, last­ing change of behaviour.

I’m not say­ing Samuel is a nar­ciss­ist or any­thing. It’s not for me to dia­gnose any­body. All I saw last year was a man who had hurt people around him. Now he seemed to want to make it bet­ter. When I saw this remorse, I decided to stay and to help, if I could.

It also seemed that Samuel suc­ceeded, albeit on his own behalf. The police report and the Law Soci­ety com­plaint were with­drawn, some of the per­sons involved issued a joint press release. Res­tor­a­tion of peace, if you will.

I’m not naïve enough to believe there weren’t flow­ing any bene­fits. I also saw how Samuel was act­ively work­ing on repair­ing his repu­ta­tion, for example by obtain­ing friendly cov­er­age from 8 Days magazine. But all in all, I hoped Samuel would be on the right track.

Today I know this was a mistake.

Why I Left

Full dis­clos­ure, I have more than one reas­on for cut­ting my ties with Samuel.

To begin with, it didn’t help that Samuel Seow Law Cor­por­a­tion under Samuel’s man­age­ment has been screw­ing up the renew­al of my for­eign prac­ti­tion­er regis­tra­tion. This regis­tra­tion is my equi­val­ent of the prac­tising cer­ti­fic­ate of a loc­al law­yer. I need it, because I win a live­li­hood by work­ing as a law­yer. It has to be renewed every year, but unfor­tu­nately, I can’t apply for it on my own. A for­eign prac­ti­tion­er needs to apply for the renew­al of his regis­tra­tion togeth­er with the law firm he works for.

Nor did it help that Samuel had stopped pay­ing my salary. By the end of April this year he hadn’t paid my salary for March and a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of my salary for Feb­ru­ary. Live­li­hood, as I said, so on a Fri­day after­noon, I filed a small law­suit against Samuel Seow Law Cor­por­a­tion. Coin­cid­ent­ally, it was the day after the video leak. The fol­low­ing Monday the cheques were ready. After they cleared, I with­drew my claim. I got my money, but I was not amused it had to come to this.

But yes, the last straw had to do with the videos.

The Video Footage

Again, if you’re in Singa­pore these days, there’s no way you didn’t hear of or even watch the two office CCTV videos which show Samuel in full assault action. Like the audio tape a year ago, they were pub­lished by an unknown per­son. The first and short­er video with a run­ning time of a minute or so shows Samuel slap­ping a female col­league in the face and push­ing and scold­ing her. The second, longer video of six minutes and then some, shows Samuel chas­ing, push­ing and beat­ing anoth­er col­league. In this video, he’s also push­ing a third col­league so hard that she falls to the floor.

I watched these videos. The short­er video is without sound, but the longer one was accur­ately matched with last year’s audio tape. Now I’ve listened to rel­ev­ant parts of that after all. All this yelling.

The videos are not for the faint-hearted, espe­cially when you know the people in it. In all clear­ness, they show crim­in­al offences and viol­a­tions of the rules of pro­fes­sion­al con­duct for law­yers. They also show insuf­fer­able cow­ardice and miso­gyny. A sturdy man bul­lies three petite women – but doesn’t do any­thing to the male col­league who con­tinu­ously clutches him and tries to pull him aside, till he thrusts again.

The Admission of Fault in Little Slices

To be hon­est, I hadn’t ima­gined Samuel’s assaults to be so vehe­ment. I had visu­al­ised him sit­ting or stand­ing behind his desk most of the time. But in spite of the dis­turb­ing foot­age I told myself not to get car­ried away. As ugly as the videos are, they show some­thing over which the parties involved are no longer in dis­pute. This was the incid­ent of last year, and it is said Samuel and the ladies have settled. No dis­cip­lin­ary meas­ures for pro­fes­sion­al mis­con­duct have been imposed to date [update]. Nor have the invest­ig­a­tions by the police brought Samuel to court [update].

That’s when I real­ised Samuel lied.

A year ago, he only admit­ted to part of what happened in the second video. What’s to deny any­way – the audio tape was out and it spoke volumes. But he denied push­ing to the floor the female col­league who told him off, a moment which the audio tape didn’t play back. He also denied assault­ing the oth­er col­league, which the audio tape didn’t cov­er either. At the time, there was no proof of these assaults. Such proof only sur­faced now.

In short, Samuel only admit­ted to what couldn’t be denied. The rest he did deny.

That did it for me. I could no longer believe in the sin­cer­ity of his wish to change, if ever there was one. The first step for that would have been to admit the wrong com­mit­ted. All without exception.

All the activ­ity from last year aim­ing at restor­ing Samuel’s repu­ta­tion seem to shine in a dif­fer­ent light now, in the light of selfish­ness. With hind­sight it’s so clear.

The media atten­tion has waned again, at least the big wave. My phone has cooled down a little.

I work else­where now.

For a Quick Recovery and Return to Good Health

I’ve come to know Samuel as an emo­tion­ally troubled man. I hope he’ll seek the help he needs to get better.

But above all, I hope vic­tims of work­place abuse every­where will find peace, quiet and hap­pi­ness. May they have the strength and patience to over­come. Time’s a bitch, but it is a heal­er.

A screenshot, dated 8 May 2019, of where used to be the website of Samuel Seow Law Corporation. Now there’s an error message because the DNS name no longer exists.
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  1. sisy tan

    do u know what happened to him now?

    • As far as I’ve read in the news Samuel was charged in court for cer­tain crim­in­al offences and referred to a dis­cip­lin­ary tribunal and then to the Court of Three Judges (the highest dis­cip­lin­ary body for law­yers in Singa­pore) for improp­er pro­fes­sion­al conduct.

      I don’t know for sure, but I believe each of these pro­ceed­ings is pending.

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