Monthly Archives: January 2015

Florida Bar’s Board of Governors gives final approval to significant revisions to Comment to Bar Rule 4-5.8 regarding lawyers leaving law firms

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent decision of The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors of to approve language to be added to the comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8 related to lawyers leaving law firms. An article in The Florida Bar News discusses the proposed revision and is here: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/7d1fa5d263aee7a585257dc400492f7d!OpenDocument

At its December 2014 meeting, The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors voted final approval of a proposed rule amendment clarifying the duties of lawyers and law firms when a lawyer leaves a law firm or the law firm dissolves. According to the Bar News article, the proposed rule amendment “addresses questions directed to Bar staff through the Bar’s Ethics Hotline by lawyers and law firms and addresses how and which clients must be informed of changes in a firm and provides that such communications must be reasonable in timeliness and nature.” The proposed revision will now be sent to the Florida Supreme Court for review and potential approval and implementation.

The proposed revision to the comment to Rule 4-5.8 is below with significant language in bold:

“Lawyers and firms should engage in bona fide, good faith negotiations within a reasonable period of time following their knowledge of either the anticipated change in firm composition or, if the anticipated change is unknown, within a reasonable period of time after the change in firm composition. The actual notification to clients should also occur within a reasonable period of time. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, including the nature of the matters in which the lawyer represented the clients and whether the affected clients have deadlines that need to be met within a short period of time.

“For purposes of this rule, clients who should be notified of the change in firm composition include current clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services with direct client contact. Clients need not be notified of the departure of a lawyer with whom the client has had no direct contact. Clients whose files are closed need not be notified unless the former client contacts the firm, at which point the firm should notify the former client of the departure of any lawyer who performed significant legal services for that former client and had direct contact with that former client.

“Although contact by telephone is not prohibited under this rule, proof of compliance with the requirements of this rule may be difficult unless the notification is in writing.

“In order to comply with the requirements of this rule, both departing lawyers and the law firm should be given access to the names and contact information of all clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services and with whom the lawyer has had direct contact.

“If neither the departing lawyer nor the law firm intends to continue representation of the affected clients, they may either agree on a joint letter providing that information to those clients, or may separately notify the affected clients after bona fide, good faith negotiations have failed. Any obligation to give the client reasonable notice, protect the client’s interests on withdrawal, and seek permission of a court to withdraw may apply to both the departing lawyer and lawyers remaining in the firm.”

Bottom line: According to the proposed amendment revision, clients who should be notified of the lawyer(s) leaving the law firm include “current clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services with direct client contact.” Further, if the lawyer had no direct client contact, “(c)lients need not be notified of the departure of a lawyer.” However, the proposed revision does state that “both departing lawyers and the law firm should be given access to the names and contact information of all clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services and with whom the lawyer has had direct contact.”

If approved by the Florida Supreme Court, this revision will clarify, and have a very significant impact on, the ground rules for the notification of clients when a lawyer leaves a law firm or the law firm is dissolved and will significantly restrict the current clients to be notified when a lawyer leaves a law firm.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Departing lawyer and law firm responsibilities, Lawyers leaving law firms

Illinois Disciplinary Board recommends one year suspension for partner who falsified and submitted $69,800.00 in client expense reimbursement claims

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Illinois Disciplinary Board Report which recommended a one year suspension for a law firm partner who falsified and submitted $69,800.00 in client expense reimbursement claims. The case is In re Lee Mark Smolen, Commission No. 2013PR00060 (1/7/14). The Board’s Report and Recommendation is here: http://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=11590

According to the Report and Recommendation, the lawyer (former Sidley Austin partner Lee Smolen) was employed in the firm real estate department since he was admitted to practice in 1987. He admitted that “he falsified and submitted for reimbursement more than 800 receipts for cab rides he did not take. He further admits he received reimbursement totaling $69,800 for the fabricated receipts.” He charged the expenses to an unallocated client account which was virtually unmonitored.

“In 2005, (the lawyer) billed 3,576 hours, which included time billed to clients and time spent on services to the firm. (The lawyer) billed 3,483 hours in 2006 and 3,332 hours in 2007. (citation omitted).” “(The lawyer) typically spent 12-15 hours per day at work and did additional work after he came home and on weekends. (citation omitted). He slept three or four hours per night. (citation omitted). (The lawyer’s) annual compensation at the time he left Sidley was $3.5 million. (citation omitted). He was one of the most highly compensated partners in the firm. (citation omitted).”

“(The lawyer’s) conduct was purposeful and intentional. We do not accept his explanation that he simply acted without thinking. (The lawyer) made conscious decisions and took conscious action each time he created and submitted a false receipt. He charged the cab rides to the Wells Fargo unallocated account, which he controlled. There was no reason for (the lawyer) to take the actions he took unless he intended to make the Sidley accounting department and management believe something that was not true, i.e., that he incurred valid cab ride expenses for which he was entitled to be reimbursed. (citation omitted).

“We do not find credible (the lawyer’s) assertion that he did not realize he was doing anything wrong. An attorney of any level of experience should recognize the wrongfulness of fabricating expenses. Given (the lawyer’s) substantial legal experience and accounting background, his professed lack of awareness is implausible.

“(The lawyer’s) purported use of the reimbursement funds for a legitimate purpose does not alter our finding of dishonesty. Other than (the lawyer’s) testimony, no evidence supports his claim that he used the funds for client development. (The lawyer’s) testimony on this issue was inconsistent and he has no records or receipts to corroborate his assertion. Respondent’s wife testified that she withdrew cash from their checking account and gave it to (the lawyer), but she had no knowledge how (the lawyer) spent the cash.

The lawyer is now employed with DLA Piper and two DLA partners testified at his hearing. According to that testimony, the lawyer appeared before DLA Piper’s executive committee and told them that he made a “horrible mistake” and the firm executive committee voted unanimously to recommend that he be employed by the firm. A partner testified that he monitors the lawyer’s billings and they are appropriate and he was initially concerned about the lawyer joining the firm, however, he is now “fully supportive” of the lawyer’s membership in the firm.

According to the Report, the lawyer’s “mental health issues and his misconduct” were also considered. One doctor opined there was a “loose association” between the lawyer’s personality disorder and his misconduct because the lawyer “was excessively devoted to work as a result of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Another doctor stated that the lawyer’s depressive disorder and anxiety disorder led to “tremendous impairment of judgment” which led to the misconduct. The opinions found that the lawyer’s mental health played at least a minor role in his misconduct and have it “some weight” as a mitigating factor.

“We recognize that the amount of Respondent’s falsified expenses is greater than the amounts in the (previously cited) cases but in light of (the lawyer’s) significant mitigation we do not believe a suspension of more than one year is warranted. We believe a one-year suspension addresses the severity of the misconduct and also takes into consideration the substantial mitigating factors.”

“Accordingly, we recommend that (the lawyer) be suspended for one year and until he completes at least twelve months of continuous treatment, from the date of the hearing, with Dr. Spira or another psychiatrist acceptable to the Administrator. The lawyer’s suspension will terminate after one year if he demonstrates his completion of treatment to the Administrator’s satisfaction.”

Bottom line: This lawyer admitted that “he falsified and submitted for reimbursement more than 800 receipts for cab rides he did not take” and received payment for a total of $69,800.00 from the clients for the fabricated receipts. In light of the large amount of the lawyer’s admitted misappropriation, it is surprising that the Board did not recommend disbarment for the misconduct. The Report and Recommendation will now be reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court which will issue a final opinion.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Filed under deceit, dishonesty, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer misappropriation, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer misrepresentations to law firm re billings, Lawyer Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions

Louisiana Supreme Court concludes that “of counsel” lawyers are associated with that law firm for conflicts of interest analysis

Hello everyone and happy 2015 to you and yours! This first Ethics Alert of the new year will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court which concluded that “of counsel” lawyers are associated with that law firm for purposes of potential conflicts of interest analysis. The case is In re Randy J. Fuerst, No. 2014-B-0647 (La. SC 12/9/14). The Court’s opinion is here: https://www.ladb.org/DR/?

According to general practice in the United States, a law firm can identify one or more lawyers as having an “of counsel” relationship with the firm. ABA Formal Op. 90-357 (May 10, 1990) states that, although the application of the term is varied, the “core characteristic (of the) title ‘counsel’ is, as stated in Formal Opinion 330, a ‘close, regular, personal relationship’; but a relationship which is neither that of a partner (or its equivalent, a principal of a professional corporation), with the shared liability and/or managerial responsibility implied by that term; nor, on the other hand, the status ordinarily conveyed by the term “associate,” which is to say a junior non- partner lawyer, regularly employed by the firm.

The ABA opinion notes that there is no prohibition against a law firm being “of counsel” to another law firm; however, “of counsel” relationships do not include the following: 1) “a relationship involving only an individual case,” 2) a relationship of “forwarder or receiver of legal business,” 3) a relationship “involving only occasional collaborative efforts among otherwise unrelated lawyers or firms,” or 4) a relationship as “an outside consultant.” ABA Formal Opinion 90-357 is here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/formal_opinion_90_357.authcheckdam.pdf

In the recent Louisiana Supreme Court opinion, the lawyer was found guilty of violating the Louisiana Bar Rules by engaging in a sexual relationship with a current client and he was also found to have engaged in a conflict of interest in violation of Louisiana Bar Rule 1.10 “by referring a (current divorce) client to another lawyer in the law firm with which he was associated as ‘Of Counsel.’” The opinion found that “(a) lawyer who is ‘Of Counsel’ to a law firm is considered to be a member of the firm for purposes of analyzing imputed disqualification questions”; therefore, the lawyer “was required to refer the divorce case to a lawyer outside his law firm prior to the time that he became involved in a personal relationship with her.”

Bottom line: According to this Louisiana disciplinary opinion, a lawyer who is “of counsel” to a law firm is considered to be a member of that law firm for purposes of conflict of interest analysis; therefore, a lawyer who has a conflict of interest and must withdraw from representing a client cannot refer that client to a law firm in which he has an “of counsel” relationship since this conflict is imputed to the law firm and all of its lawyers. In addition, in this case, the lawyer “was required to refer the divorce case to a lawyer outside his law firm prior to the time that he became involved in a personal relationship with her.”

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under ABA formal opinions, Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conflict of interest, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline alleged sexual misconduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer sanctions