Legal Ethics

Law Firm Worker Tells Advice Columnist of Plagiarizing Lawyer

Updated: An advice columnist advises a law firm worker to blow the whistle on a lawyer in her firm who passes off the work of others as his own.

The worker wrote Washington Post columnist Lily Garcia during an online chat.

“There is an attorney in our law firm who is running another business out of our offices,” the worker says. “To make up for lost time and to keep up appearances, he frequently plagiarizes work by other attorneys in different law firms around the country by submitting it as his own.”

The employee, who was transferred to a new lawyer after complaining about the plagiarizing lawyer, is identified as writing from Pittsburgh. The worker got a poor performance review from the lawyer, who still hasn’t stopped his copying. “At any given time, I see published papers from other law firms he has printed out from the Internet which will soon bear his name as well as materials from his other business,” the worker writes.

Garcia says the worker could contact the ABA to find out if the lawyer is violating ethics rules. “Meanwhile, you could take it upon yourself to notify the people whose work this attorney has plagiarized,” Garcia says. “I imagine that this would go a long way toward getting the attention of your firm’s leadership. However, you should carefully gauge whether you are willing to take the risk that you will be retaliated against for your actions.”

ABA ethics counsel George Kuhlman says the ABA doesn’t investigate alleged ethics violations by lawyers. That’s the job of state disciplinary agencies. “They are the people who have the authority to pick up the phone and test veracity of the claims,” he said. “And that’s how you come up with a fair evaluation of whether something bad is occurring.”

That said, Kuhlman was willing to talk about what ethics rules might come into play. He pointed to Rule 8.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which has been adopted in some form by all of the states. Rule 8.4 is a broad conduct rule that says lawyers shall not participate in conduct involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation.

“There you have it—that’s what the issue is,” Kuhlman says. “Someone is claiming that the lawyer in question is misrepresenting someone else’s work as his own work.”

Other ethics rules could also come into play, depending on whether the lawyer is billing for the plagiarized work and whether the fee is justified, he said.

Updated on Aug. 13 to include comments from George Kuhlman.

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