Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion suspending a lawyer for 30 months with all but one (1) year deferred for false billable hours that he believed were necessary to maintain his partnership position and “in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month.” The disciplinary case is: In re: Kenneth Todd Wallace, Case No. 2017-B-0525. The disciplinary opinion is dated September 22, 2017 and is here: http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2017/17B0525.OPN.pdf
According to the opinion, the lawyer “joined the law firm of Liskow & Lewis as an associate attorney in 1998. After his promotion to shareholder in 2005, he served as the firm’s hiring partner and head of recruiting. He also chaired the firm’s diversity committee as the firm’s first minority recruiting and retention partner. In 2012, respondent was elected to the firm’s board of directors and served as the board’s junior director through April 2015.”
The lawyer stated that he made the false billing entries because he was concerned that his correct billable hours (along with an insufficient number of clients) were not adequate for a partner with his status. “When his practice began to decline, (the lawyer) gave in to his own internal pressures and began to submit false time on a dismissed contingency fee matter, and eventually other matters, in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month.”
After the law firm became aware of his false billing in some client matters, the lawyer assisted the firm in conducting a full investigation. The firm’s investigation showed that, between 2012 through 2015, the lawyer submitted 428 billing entries that the firm believed were “certainly false” and another 220 entries that the firm believed could be false or inflated; however, the law firm concluded that none of the false billing entries adversely affected any of the firm’s clients.
The lawyer had received $85,000.00 in merit bonuses between 2012 through 2015 and the firm concluded he would have received some or all of the bonuses even if he had not inflated his billable hours. The lawyer had also spent significant time with his firm management and committee responsibilities and had also met or exceeded billable targets during the years in question. The lawyer resigned from the firm in 2015 and gave up his available bonus.
The disciplinary opinion imposed a 30 month suspension with all but one-year deferred. The suspension was also made retroactive to January 2016, when the lawyer had been suspended on an interim basis pending the outcome of the matter.
Bottom line: This is a very clear and unfortunate example of a lawyer who most likely destroyed his legal career after succumbing to the stress and pressure of a law partner’s need for large billable hours and a large number of clients (book of business). I would imagine that, if asked, this lawyer would tell you that it was not worth it.
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.
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