Legal Ethics

Bar Board Nixes Discipline for Associate Who Looked at Mintz Levin Docs Anticipating Personal Suit


Rejecting a hearing panel’s reprimand recommendation, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers has declined to discipline a former associate of a Boston law firm who had complained that the firm discriminated against her due to her gender and status as a new mother.

In a seven-page decision (PDF) released on Wednesday, the BBO held that Kamee Beth Verdrager had not done anything that “adversely reflects on … her fitness to practice law” when she openly looked for documents in the firm’s computer files to support her discrimination case at a time when she expected to be fired.

The hearing panel correctly ruled against bar counsel’s arguments that Verdrager’s accessing of the Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovslcy and Popeo documents, which she did not remove or damage, violated attorney discipline rules against criminal and dishonest conduct, the BBO said.

However, Verdrager did nothing wrong by accessing the documents, given the manner in which they were described by the firm and the manner in which other lawyers used them, the BBO explained.

Although those on the other side of the argument said what Verdrager had done was equivalent to looking through unlocked filing cabinet in a senior partner’s office, it was actually a lot more like looking at documents that had been left out on a reading table in a public library within the law firm, the BBO said.

“It is important to stress at the outset that the documents the respondent retrieved were not subject to the attorney-client privilege or secured in the private sectors of the firm’s document management system,” the board wrote, explaining later that “Lawyers in the firm were encouraged to review public documents posted by others.

“Such review was a widespread practice among the firm’s lawyers, whether in search of a template for a pleading or even to discover how many hours other partners and associates were billing. Given such a policy and practice, and the highly competitive environment it reflects, it follows that no one who failed to secure documents he or she did not want other lawyers to review should be heard to complain that others took the firm at its word regarding the public nature of its unsecured documents. If documents were not secured they could–and in such a milieu there was a very good chance they would–be read by any interested person with access to the system.”

A tip of the hat to the Docket blog of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Female Associate Unhappy at Mintz Firm, One of the ‘Best Law Firms for Women’”

ABAJournal.com: “Firms Err When They Treat Pregnant Lawyers ‘as Bellies,’ Lawyer Says”

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