Legal Ethics

Ex-partner is suspended for false billable claims; he feared leadership position required more hours

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billable hours

A Louisiana lawyer has received a retroactive one-year suspension for claiming billable hours in cases that were never billed to clients, including a failed contingency case.

The Louisiana Supreme Court imposed the suspension on lawyer Kenneth Todd Wallace in a Sept. 22 decision (PDF), the Legal Profession Blog reports. Wallace had served on the board of directors and as the hiring partner for Liskow & Lewis.

Wallace said he had entered the false billings because he was concerned his real billable hours, when coupled with an insufficient book of business, weren’t sufficient for someone with his leadership role.

“When his practice began to decline,” the opinion said, Wallace “gave in to his own internal pressures and began to submit false time on a dismissed contingency fee matter, and eventually other matters, in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month.”

After the firm first learned of false billing in a few matters, Wallace helped the firm conduct a full investigation, the opinion said. The outcome showed that none of the false billing entries affected any clients. In all, from 2012 through 2015, Wallace submitted 428 billing entries that the firm called “certainly false” and another 220 entries that the firm believed to be false or inflated.

Wallace had earned $85,000 merit bonuses during the period in question, but the firm concluded he would have received some or all of the bonuses even if he hadn’t inflated the billable hours. Wallace had devoted significant time to firm management and committee responsibilities. He had also met or exceeded billable targets during the years in question.

Wallace resigned from the firm in 2015 and voluntarily gave up his termination bonus of $85,000.

The court said Wallace was suspended for 30 months, with all but one year deferred. The one-year suspension was retroactive to January 2016, when his interim suspension began.

Wallace was represented by lawyer Dane Ciolino, who told the ABA Journal the sanction was appropriate in light of the admitted misconduct. The sanction is also consistent with the way in which other courts have handled similar offenses, according to Ciolino.

Hat tip to Law360.

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