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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Lessons from a penitent

Lessons from a penitent


It's hard to say sorry. We lawyers tend to find it harder than most to apologise – it's not naturally in our nature 

It’s hard to say sorry. We lawyers tend to find it harder than most to apologise – it’s not naturally in our nature (not for most of us anyway). 

We know we are right, we are trained to have the right answers, to identify the right approach to a case or a transaction. Accepting and acknowledging when we are wrong – or have done wrong – or made bad decisions doesn’t come easily.

So when a lawyer’s genuine, heartfelt apology for serious wrong is offered up – let’s learn from it. 

Cubism Law founder Andrew Pena gave a quite remarkable statement in mitigation (‘not accepted by the SRA’, whatever that means) in SDT proceedings. He was struck off the roll after dishonestly misappropriating client funds of more than £265,000. 

Pena was an idealist who eventually “cracked” under severe financial strains. The self-righteous among us may respond to striking off with no more than a cursory ‘serves you right’ – but if you think you’d never sink to such depths, don’t be complacent. I’d also ask you, where’s your humanity?

Pena (formerly at Field Fisher Waterhouse) was “inspired and amazed” after observing a Spanish conglomerate’s business which was based on a cooperative model. His dream became a reality and he set up Cubism on similar principles – “a true partnership without the politics”. 

But as Pena said in his statement: “Ideals and realities are not good bedfellows.” His idealist business evolved into a “strange Cubist nightmare… uncomfortably jagged, incongruous and inhuman”. Expansion came at a cost and financial and other problems began to surface. By Autumn 2018, the business was in trouble, Pena was battling health issues and team members were struggling with the pressures - “a melting pot of fears, wrapped in dark thoughts, that would never go away”.

And he soon cracked under the pressure, embarking on dishonesty such as transferring money and creating fictitious invoices. It was only a matter of time before he was found out. 

Pena’s general perspectives in his statement, painted with the benefit of hindsight, should not be swept away by anyone in the legal profession. Two key points are worth highlighting:

  • “I have come to realise that being a solicitor is something I should have valued far more highly rather than taken for granted.” 
  • “Rules and principles are easy to follow when things are going well.”

Could you stumble and fall in similar ways to Pena and others? Those (me included) with a personal belief in the reality of ‘original sin’, would be convinced we each have the propensity to act in the most morally and legally reprehensible ways.

But if and when we do, a heartfelt apology and acknowledging profound regret and remorse is part of that road to personal and, perhaps professional, redemption. 

And as solicitors, let’s never take our professional status for granted.