LAWYERS wanting to accept gifts from clients have been given new guidelines after a member of the profession was struck off the rolls for dishonestly receiving $450,000 from an elderly woman.

The must-do list tells them how to take steps to avoid being accused of taking advantage of vulnerable customers.

For example, they have to advise their clients to take independent legal advice before giving the present.

And they must make sure customers confirm in writing that the implications have been explained to them.

Lawyers already have to follow these rules but the guidelines spell them out in detail for the first time.

They were drawn up by the Court of Three Judges, which yesterday released judgment grounds to explain why legal veteran James Wan was struck off the rolls.

His case was unique because it was the first in which a lawyer had failed to tell his client to seek independent advice before offering him a substantial present.

Mr Wan, 73, dishonestly received $450,000 as a "gift" from Madam Chiang Choy Peng.

She was a destitute found wandering in the streets in the 1970s.

However, it later turned out that she was the owner of a house in Changi.

In 2001, Mr Wan agreed to help her recover the property from squatters and sell it.

Madam Chiang later signed over power of attorney to the lawyer and made a will leaving everything to him and nothing to her four children.

She allegedly told him that when the two-storey terraced house was sold, she was prepared to accept $500,000 and leave him the rest.

After its sale in 2001 for $960,000, Mr Wan kept $447,326 of the proceeds.

But the Court of Three Judges later found he had manipulated his 74-year-old client.

Mr Wan pleaded guilty to committing professional misconduct by failing to tell her to seek independent legal advice in relation to the present.

The court - comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah - said in its judgment grounds: "...(A lawyer) who receives a significant gift from a client should be aware that the circumstances in which a gift is made will attract intense and detailed scrutiny if and when the propriety of the gift comes into issue.

"Prudent (lawyers) should therefore shun situations where even the appearance of having taken advantage of a client may later be called into question."

The court also made clear that lawyers cannot influence the views of whoever is hired to provide the independent legal advice.

If, for whatever reason, the client declines to seek this advice, they cannot accept the gift.

Mr Wan, who has been practising for 42 years, is believed to be the oldest lawyer to be struck off the rolls in Singapore.

He is listed at No. 83 in terms of seniority in the annual list of 3,973 lawyers gazetted last September.

Asked about his disbarment yesterday, he said in a doleful tone: "It is one of those things in life.

"I had planned to retire and do some reading."