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.
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.
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.