Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sanction For Partnership With Non-Lawyer And Other Misconduct

A report of a bar discipline decision from the April 2010 online edition of the California Bar Journal:

[An attorney] was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to comply with a law office management requirement, take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, she must prove her rehabilitation. The order took effect Sept. 25, 2009.

[Attorney T] stipulated to four counts of misconduct, including forming a partnership with a non-lawyer, making communications containing untrue statements, misusing her client trust account and committing acts of moral turpitude.

[T] opened her own law firm in 2004 and two years later hired Mary [H], who graduated from law school but is not a lawyer. [T] formed a law partnership with [H] and filed an application with the Secretary of State to register [H & T] as a limited liability partnership. A law firm cannot be an LLP without registering with the State Bar and [T] did not do so.

In her fee agreements and other correspondence, [T] used the name [H & T] LLP, creating a false impression that [H] was a lawyer and that the firm was an LLP. She also advertised on craigslist, Linkedin and other forums, claiming to have more than 10 years of experience “at a top tier firm,” when she had been a lawyer for only five years.

Responding to a bar investigator, [T] said she had worked as an associate at Gray, Cary, when in fact she was once a paralegal at the firm. She also falsely claimed [H] was a salaried employee, not a partner with an interest in the LLP.

In addition, [T] commingled personal and client funds in her trust account, using it as an operating account for her law firm, and to pay personal and business expenses.

In mitigation, she demonstrated remorse and provided evidence of her good character.

(Mike Frisch)

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