Former BigLaw associate is accused of recording more than 2,000 hours on closed pro bono case

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A former associate at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith is facing an ethics complaint alleging that he recorded more than 2,000 annual hours on a closed pro bono case and earned a $12,000 bonus as a result.

The Chicago lawyer, John Paul Paleczny, knew that his recorded pro bono hours would be considered when the law firm determined whether to continue employing him and how much to pay him in compensation, including bonuses, the June 18 ethics complaint says.

A Lewis Brisbois lawyer, Beth Ann Berger Zerman, had tapped Paleczny to help represent a federal inmate who said he lost his prison job as an orderly in the law library after he complained about a new library policy. A judge had appointed Zerman in 2018 to represent the inmate and said she could share her responsibilities with an associate.

Paleczny recorded more than 2,000 hours on the open matter in 2019 before a judge tossed the lawsuit and denied a motion to amend the complaint, according to the ethics complaint.

Even though Paleczny should have received notice of the judge’s Dec. 23, 2019, ruling, Paleczny recorded another 17.1 hours drafting a motion for summary judgment in the following days. On Jan. 3, 2020, Zerman told the inmate that the law firm was no longer representing him, but he could represent himself in any post judgment motion or appeal.

But Paleczny continued billing on the matter, racking up more than 2,000 hours in recorded hours again in 2020, the ethics complaint alleges. Paleczny “knew by at least Jan. 21, 2020, the lapse of the 28-day period to appeal, that the firm would not be appealing the adverse ruling,” the complaint says.

Paleczny described his work as drafting, editing and amending a motion for summary judgment.

Based on the hours that he recorded, Paleczny was paid quarterly bonuses that amounted to $12,000 for the year 2020. He continued recording time on the matter in early 2021, claiming another 245.8 hours.

When two partners and an office administrator questioned Paleczny about his time on the matter in February 2021, Paleczny said he was working on a summary judgment motion. Paleczny later admitted the same day that he was billing on the case, even though it had been tossed.

He was fired before the end of the day for falsely recording the hours and lying about it. Paleczny interviewed with at least four Chicago law firms, falsely saying he was laid off from Lewis Brisbois because he did not have enough work to do, the complaint says.

Paleczny is accused of conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

Hat tip to Reuters, Law360 and the Legal Profession Blog, which covered the ethics complaint.

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