Former Lewis Brisbois executive criticized firm's financial practices in 2019 claim
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The former chief operating officer of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith has alleged in an August 2019 whistleblower letter that he was fired after raising concerns about the law firm’s financial practices.
The former COO is Robert Kamins. He is acting as the COO of the newly formed firm Barber Ranen, which is starting up with more than 120 lawyers from Lewis Brisbois.
Law.com obtained Kamins’ letter through a formal request with the California Department of Industrial Relations.
The Daily Journal was first to report on the letter, a claim filed under the Private Attorneys General Act with the state of California. No action was taken by the California Labor and Workforce Agency as a result of the claim, a Lewis Brisbois spokesperson told Law.com.
According to the Law.com report, the letter alleged “potential embezzlement of firm assets, fraudulent use of software without the legally required licenses, kickbacks from vendors, potential misappropriation of partnership assets and client trust funds, breaches of fiduciary duty and failure to comply with reporting requirements.”
The letter had also alleged that Lewis Brisbois co-chairman Bob Lewis “appeared to run this massive partnership as if the firm was still a ‘mom and pop’ operation still controlled by Bob Lewis” in violation of his duties to partners, according to the Law.com report on the letter.
Lewis is leaving his role as co-chairman of Lewis Brisbois, and the firm is forming an expanded management committee, the firm announced after the mass departures.
A Lewis Brisbois spokesperson denied the allegations when contacted by Law.com. The spokesperson told the publication that, “to the extent Mr. Kamins’ letter implies that we are a family run business—we respond with an emphatic yes!”
The spokesperson said Lewis Brisbois has “risen from a ‘mom and pop’ shop to over 1,600 lawyers in 55 cities precisely because we treat our employees and clients like family.” The statement said the firm is “extraordinarily proud of our family-oriented culture and point out that many of our lawyers and business professionals have spouses and children who work at our firm.”
According to Law.com, other allegations in the letter included:
- The firm “appeared to intentionally fail to make year-end collections that were capable of being collected.” That would prevent the reporting of funds for the relevant tax year, thus denying full compensation to equity partners for that year.
- The firm held assets in “mysterious bank accounts spread between two banks.” One was used for deposits, and the other for payments.
- Lewis “appeared to spread financial perks to those close to him without consent or knowledge of the partnership.” The perks included corporate rewards points and gift cards gained from millions of dollars in firm purchases.
- The firm hired Lewis’ son, Craig Lewis, for many vendor services.
- The firm used “privacy-intrusive tactics” on its employees, some undertaken without the knowledge of leadership.
The Lewis Brisbois spokesperson told Law.com that the firm “finds it troubling that these four-year-old allegations have resurfaced at the same time, that according to a legal media outlet, Mr. Kamins is working with the Barber Ranen law firm.”