Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Lawyer practices for 34 years, inflates hours to "look busy" to his own partners

there was no fraud on the client - he NEVER BILLED the extra wolfman01/09/18
forging hours to cheat your firm seems like a reasonable rea dietcoke01/09/18
I don't disagree... but being in a position, after 34 years wolfman01/09/18
Unfortunately, I feel like I'm on the same path (not to padd jd4hire01/10/18
Law firms have come under fire for a long time over their bi patenttrollnj01/09/18
I agree with you on the morals of it, but MR 1.4 does say th onehell01/10/18
I'm not so sure the definition of "third party" includes the patenttrollnj01/10/18
I dunno man. In my experience the firm itself doesn't enter onehell01/11/18
He admitted to his intent to look busy? I would've just said 2breedbares01/10/18
How is this an ethical violation? He put in 98 hours and too cocolawyer01/10/18
How is this an ethical violation? He put in 98 hours and too cocolawyer01/10/18
Are you really that dense? dietcoke01/10/18
Boomers gonna boom. goptaxlawyer01/10/18
Yeah I'm calling bs on this. We millennials will be just as loblawyer01/11/18
The sad thing is that if he worked inefficiently or delibera greenhorn01/10/18
I recall about 2-3 years ago a very similar situation in whi williamdrayton01/11/18
That sounds different. The bean-counters caught it before th onehell01/11/18
so you are drawing a distinction between a partner who presu williamdrayton01/11/18
Of course I'm drawing such a distinction. The associate in y onehell01/11/18
See, I don't agree with your logic at all. Both committed th mrtor01/12/18
See above. I agree that he deserves his punishment because l onehell01/12/18

wolfman (Jan 9, 2018 - 7:43 pm)

there was no fraud on the client - he NEVER BILLED the extra hours to the client

fired from the firm and now censured by the bar/court

what a "profession"

https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/sites/newyorklawjournal/2018/01/09/manhattan-lawyer-censured-for-falsifying-time-records-to-his-partners-even-though-clients-unscathed/?kw=Manhattan%20Lawyer%20Censured%20for%20Falsifying%20Time%20Records%2C%20Even%20Though%20Clients%20Unscathed&et=editorial&bu=New%20York%20Law%20Journal&cn=20180109&src=EMC-Email&pt=Daily%20News

For those w/out access:
...

By Jason Grant | January 09, 2018

A Manhattan lawyer has been publicly censured for adding 94.8 hours of fabricated billing to his law firm’s internal records, in an effort to look busy to his partners, even though he removed the false entries before the bills went out to clients.

A unanimous Appellate Division, First Department, panel censured lawyer Jeffrey Leighton, while noting that the Attorney Grievance Committee and Leighton had stipulated to the punishment, even though there is apparently no precedent for a censure when the clients aren’t cheated.

The panel also noted, under mitigating factors weighing against a harsher punishment, that Leighton, a 34-year veteran lawyer, had lost his partnership at his firm because he’d padded the bills.

“The [First Department Attorney Grievance] Committee found no precedent for any public censure for falsifying time records where clients were not harmed,” the panel wrote, adding, “Disciplinary cases involving false or over-billing that have resulted in public discipline involved more egregious conduct in which the clients were directly impacted by the misconduct.”

However, the panel also pointed out that “the Committee and [Leighton] agree that public censure is appropriate because he engaged in this conduct for a period of over two years, he is a senior attorney with extensive experience, and although he did not intend to financially benefit or over-bill his clients, he intended to and did ‘deceive his colleagues and his firm about how busy he was.’”

According to Lawyers.com, Leighton had been a member of Will Auslander, a law firm with offices in both Manhattan and Geneva, Switzerland.

Leighton was admitted in the Second Judicial Department in 1983, according to the panel, which consisted of Justices David Friedman, Marcy Kahn, Ellen Gesmer, Cynthia Kern and Peter Moulton. He had an office in the First Judicial Department at all relevant times, and the committee and Leighton stipulated that between March 2012 and September 2013 he’d engaged in a pattern of making fake internal firm billing entries, the panel wrote in the Jan. 4 decision.

In mitigation of the punishment, the panel pointed out in Matter of Jeffrey Leighton, 2018 NY Slip Op 00089, that Leighton had never previously been the subject of a disciplinary investigation, that he cooperated with the committee, and that he’d “expressed genuine remorse and embarrassment.”
...

Reply Like (0)
dietcoke (Jan 9, 2018 - 9:09 pm)

forging hours to cheat your firm seems like a reasonable reason to censure someone, even if money isn't directly involved (not getting fired is arguably money)

Reply Like (0)
wolfman (Jan 9, 2018 - 9:35 pm)

I don't disagree... but being in a position, after 34 years of practice, where you feel like you need to forge hours to avoid being fired... that's the sad part.

Reply Like (0)
jd4hire (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:59 pm)

Unfortunately, I feel like I'm on the same path (not to padding internal bills, but being at a place where I still feel immense pressure to appear busy).

Reply Like (0)
patenttrollnj (Jan 9, 2018 - 9:58 pm)

Law firms have come under fire for a long time over their billing practices. I think the Committee was reacting to these criticisms when rendering its decision.

This appears to be overreach. Not sure any ethics rule has been violated, rather an attorney is being punished for generally being dishonest to his employer--NOT to a client, a court or any adverse party. This is an internal matter for the firm to deal with, but not for the Appellate Division to get involved with.

Hell, has anyone ever dealt with a copyright troll? A patent troll? WHY isn't any committee investigating them?? What they do is despicable and far worse than merely adding hours to appear busier to a firm.

Reply Like (0)
onehell (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:43 pm)

I agree with you on the morals of it, but MR 1.4 does say that "in the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person."

So I guess it is an ethics violation to say anything you know to be false, to ANY third person, that is "in the course of representing a client" and which is "material."

Preparing billing records, even for solely internal purposes, would appear to meet that definition.

By censuring the guy instead of suspending him, it appears they meted out the lowest level of punishment available to them. It was pretty dickish of the firm to complain though. Why not just fire him? Why try to wreck his career? It doesn't benefit the firm in any way to do that, so once they learned that he didn't bill any clients for the inflated hours, anything further they did after that was just spiteful.

Reply Like (0)
patenttrollnj (Jan 10, 2018 - 3:57 pm)

I'm not so sure the definition of "third party" includes the firm itself.

The article does note that there is no precedent for this, thus I'm presuming that there is also no precedent for including an attorney's employer as a "third party." After all, it is the firm (aka. the employer) that is representing the client as a firm--not the individual attorney acting in a capacity distinct from the firm. Admittedly, I didn't look through the case law or any statute, so I'm no expert on the subject.

Also, do we know that it was the firm that complained? I can't imagine a firm would be so petty like that, but maybe some career rival wanted to stick one to him.

Reply Like (0)
onehell (Jan 11, 2018 - 4:05 pm)

I dunno man. In my experience the firm itself doesn't enter appearances, individual attorneys do. That's why, when you quit a firm and there are files where you are counsel of record, you have to either get the client to sign a substitution, take the files with you, or get the court's permission to withdraw. The law firm is an administrative entity that facilitates sharing overhead, splitting fees, etc. There's no provision for giving a bar number to an entity.

Reply Like (0)
2breedbares (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:13 pm)

He admitted to his intent to look busy? I would've just said that I took those hours out because I felt like I couldn't reasonably bill those to the client, i.e. routinely slashing the bills.

Reply Like (0)
cocolawyer (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:38 pm)

How is this an ethical violation? He put in 98 hours and took it out before the bills went out, meaning no actual client was hurt. I don't get it.

This may be grounds to be s-canned but thats about it.

Reply Like (0)
cocolawyer (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:38 pm)

How is this an ethical violation? He put in 98 hours and took it out before the bills went out, meaning no actual client was hurt. I don't get it.

This may be grounds to be s-canned but thats about it.

Reply Like (0)
dietcoke (Jan 10, 2018 - 2:46 pm)

Are you really that dense?

Reply Like (0)
goptaxlawyer (Jan 10, 2018 - 5:30 pm)

Boomers gonna boom.

Reply Like (0)
loblawyer (Jan 11, 2018 - 12:52 pm)

Yeah I'm calling bs on this. We millennials will be just as susceptible to such crap in high pressure, high billable environments.

Reply Like (0)
greenhorn (Jan 10, 2018 - 9:23 pm)

The sad thing is that if he worked inefficiently or deliberately created work that didn’t need to be done and billed it to the client, he wouldn’t be in the trouble that he is in.

The problem is in the system as a whole.

Reply Like (0)
williamdrayton (Jan 11, 2018 - 1:54 pm)

I recall about 2-3 years ago a very similar situation in which a young biglaw associate padded her hours in order to meet the firm's yearly quota. her "mistake" was caught by the firm's bean-counters BEFORE the bills were sent to a client and she was fired. that should have been the end of the story.

instead, the douchebags in charge of the firm wanted a pound of flesh ratted her out to the state Ethics board and she faced charges. I don't recall the level of discipline but it was a really nasty thing for the firm to do. getting fired was sufficient punishment.

Reply Like (0)
onehell (Jan 11, 2018 - 4:19 pm)

That sounds different. The bean-counters caught it before the bills went to the client, but the bills WOULD HAVE gone to the client if they hadn't caught it. It was an inchoate offense, but an offense nonetheless. That's unlike this scenario, where the lawyer only padded documents that he knew would never go to the client.

Reply Like (0)
williamdrayton (Jan 11, 2018 - 5:28 pm)

so you are drawing a distinction between a partner who presumably had control over final bill review and invoicing versus an associate who didn't have that control and her bills may have been inadvertently sent to the client? some hairsplitting going on?

I see your point but the end result in both cases, is that no client was harmed; that's why I think termination was sufficient.

Reply Like (0)
onehell (Jan 11, 2018 - 6:14 pm)

Of course I'm drawing such a distinction. The associate in your example KNOWS that she does not have the control you describe, which means she knows that if she puts hours into the system those hours are generally gonna get billed. The partner in this case, meanwhile, knows that he will have control over what will actually get billed and did in fact use that control to ensure no clients were harmed.

Reply Like (0)
mrtor (Jan 12, 2018 - 3:55 pm)

See, I don't agree with your logic at all. Both committed the same offense, one simply had the power to try to cover it up better. A cover up doesn't excuse the wrongdoing.

Furthermore, this attorney is not infallible. Who is to say he caught all of his fraudulent bills? And if he actually did, it is by mere luck. He could have easily missed some and billed the client for work he didn't perform. We should not applaud him for a "good" cover up of otherwise blatantly unethical conduct.

I'm also curious as to whether the ethical rules are interpreted as forming a distinction between fraudulent "internal" billing and fraudulent "external" billing. IMO, any time you generate a bill you are representing to the world that you performed the work on that bill. Whether or not it is transmitted to the client is irrelevant. Therefore, fraudulent internal billing is an ethical violation.

He deserves his punishment.

Reply Like (0)
onehell (Jan 12, 2018 - 4:52 pm)

See above. I agree that he deserves his punishment because lawyers can't make material false statements with respect to a client even to third parties.

Both Williamdrayton's friend and the guy in the OP deserved to have the bar come after them. The issue is whether their employer was right to make the report. I would say that in williamdrayton's example, they probably had no choice as the lawyer attempted to bill the client. But in the OP, they didn't have to report it. The bar acted properly in both cases. The employer in the Williamdrayton example also acted properly. In the OP example, however, the firm acted out of spite.

In the OP example, btw, the "cover up" absolutely merited his firing, and it justified the bar's decision too. What it did not merit was the employer report to the bar. I don't think a "bad" hour would have gone through; he was probably keeping a list of the "bad" hours so he knew exactly what to remove from the bill. The point is he covered up something to his employer, but never to any client.

Reply Like (0)
Post a message in this thread