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A Biglaw Partner Goes Down for An Error of Judgment

Given how much I gripe about the how bars penalize solos more harshly than Biglaw attorneys, I thought that I'd feel some sense of gratification when I read about how a former Wilkie Farr partner has been suspended from the practice of law for a year for billing clients for $30,000 of personal long-distance calls. But I don't. Suspending a lawyer for an entire year for an error judgment at a time of personal turmoil is, in my view, entirely heavy-handed, whether the lawyer's a solo or Biglaw partner.

According to the article, Patrick Carmody, a Wilkie partner earning $1 million a year, was caught charging personal phone calls to firm clients. Carmody left the firm and then reported his misconduct to the grievance committee (I'll bet he regrets that decision now!). Carmody argued that at the time he made the calls, he was under tremendous stress. In addition to billing 2,200 to 2,400 hours a year and spending 400 on nonbillable work, Carmody was also going through a divorce and made the calls seeking support from relatives overseas. But the grievance committee was not swayed; they viewed the calls as "simple thievery" and found that they were not a one-time occurrence but a continuing misconduct that took place over a two-year period.

I'm not sure why the bar would punish a lawyer who turned himself in. Carmody certainly had money to reimburse his clients, and the bar could have ordered him to make the clients and his former firm whole. To me, that seems to be a better remedy than a one-year suspension. I would think that the bar would want to encourage lawyers who've made not-so-harmful mistakes to come forward, so that it can deal with them before they do something really bad. But after this case, what lawyer is going to self-report a minor incident and risk facing the heavy-handed wrath of the bar? 

While this story angers me, it saddens me as well. Saddens me that someone talented enough to be earning $1 million a year at a firm wasn't smart enough to walk away from it all when it wasn't working out. And sadder still that Carmody felt he had to seek support from family and relatives 3,000 miles away, because he apparently didn't have a close-enough relationship with a colleague or partner with whom to share his troubles 30 feet down the hall.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 1, 2006 at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

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