Board Says La. Law Partners Treated Staff as Attorneys, Seeks Disbarment
Posted Nov 13, 2008 10:50 AM CST
By Martha Neil
Two longtime Louisiana lawyers have been recommended for disbarment after a disciplinary board found in what a local newspaper described as an "often blistering opinion" that they allowed staff of their Baton Rouge-based law firm to act as attorneys.
E. Eric Guirard and law partner Thomas R. Pittenger allowed non-attorneys on their staff to practice law by settling cases with insurance adjusters and handling other duties that lawyers are required to perform, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board found. It also said that the two also paid improper fees and incentives to staff for client referrals, reports the Advocate.
The two "even went so far as to run contests among the case managers to reach a certain level of fees generated from the settlement of cases during designated time periods,” the board says in its written opinion. “The resulting prize would be a trip to Cancun or to the Beau Rivage Resort on the Mississippi Gulf Coast." Similarly, staff who were "successful in having a prospective client sign the contract" could "receive a bonus or sign-up fee ranging from $15 to $50.”
A hearing committee had recommended a one-year suspension for the two partners, but the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has called for their disbarment. A final decision on the issue will be made by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Their lawyer, James Clary, says the two strongly disagree with the board's opinion and have each practiced law for more than two decades without any prior disciplinary record. He also emphasized that no client complaints or client fund issues exist, and says that no "specific client harm has ever been identified” as a result of the two partners' alleged misconduct.