Legal Ethics

After Law Firm Cut Partner Pay, One Found Another Way to Up Ante, Earns 1-Year License Suspension

A Delaware attorney was already struggling to deal with several deaths in his family and had been seeking treatment for depression when his law firm, in September 2010, imposed a 25-percent partner pay cut in order to stay afloat financially after several years of a recessionary economy.

At that point, “to mitigate his financial difficulties resulting from the pay cut,” then-partner Patrick E. Vanderslice of Moore & Rutt in Georgetown “misappropriated clients’ ‘consultation fees’ and ‘flat fees’ from the firm on eight occasions between December 2010 and September 2011,” as a Friday opinion (PDF) by the Delaware Supreme Court put it.

“He also caused clients to enter into retainer agreements that failed to provide that any retainer was refundable if unearned, even though in practice his firm refunded any unearned retainers to its clients,” the opinion continues. “There is no evidence that Vanderslice ever diverted any unearned retainers from the firm or its clients.”

An article in the Wilmington News-Journal supplies the details about the law firm for which Vanderslice worked at the time and notes that Vanderslice currently heads the Laurel Board of Education.

Confronted by his partners in October 2011, after they discovered the situation a month earlier, Vanderslice self-reported the situation to legal ethics authorities, repaid to the law firm the $1,780 at issue and was let go by the firm. Now he has been suspended from practice for a year by the supreme court. He has been in practice since 1999.

The newspaper reports that Vanderslice did not respond to the News-Journal’s requests for comment.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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