Former Vedder Price shareholder gets 3-year suspension for double billing, false expense requests

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The Illinois Supreme Court has suspended a former Vedder Price shareholder after a hearing board found that he double billed for legal services and then sought reimbursement for fake expenses from the money wrongly collected.

In a Jan. 20 order, the state supreme court suspended Robert John Hankes for three years with a requirement that he also complete a professionalism seminar.

Hankes received more than $1 million in annual compensation in 2018 but provided no explanation for his misconduct, according to a September 2021 report and recommendation by the review board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Hankes worked at Vedder Price since he was hired in 2005 as a summer associate. He was fired in October 2019 after the alleged wrongdoing was discovered.

The board said Hankes received nearly $80,000 that rightfully belonged to clients as a result of his misconduct.

According to the review board, Hankes created multiple false client invoices, arranged for payments on those invoices to be credited to a formerly dormant account, and then submitted false expense requests to his law firm to be paid from the reactivated account.

The double billing stemmed from Hankes’ representation of a financial institution in financing and leasing matters involving other companies. The financial institution’s agreements with the customer companies allowed them to be billed directly for legal services in certain circumstances.

Hankes billed the financial institution and its customers for the same legal work, wrongly collecting nearly $109,000 that he applied to the reactivated account, the review board said. He also billed another client nearly $7,500 using a false invoice, according to the review board.

Hankes then sought reimbursement for expenses that weren’t incurred for the law firm, according to the review board. For example, he sought about $2,100 for a “client event” and a “race day” event. He sought nearly $2,600 to buy a crossbow, purportedly for a gift. He sought $13,700 for airfare and nearly $17,000 for first-class plane tickets to Moscow that he didn’t use. Instead, he applied the flight credit to his personal credit card. Based on his false requests, Hankes received nearly $80,000.

Hankes made restitution on the eve of his disciplinary hearing, the review board said. Other mitigating factors were that Hankes admitted his wrongdoing when confronted by Vedder Price’s general counsel, self-reported his conduct to ethics authorities, and was forthright during the ethics hearing. He also had no prior discipline and a history of significant pro bono legal work.

Vedder Price’s general counsel told the ABA Journal in January 2020 that the firm refunded all amounts due to its client. At the time, Hankes had been accused of false billing involving only the financial institution and its customers. The general counsel, Michael Mulcahy, had no additional comment when contacted by the ABA Journal on Monday.

Hankes specialized in aircraft financing at Vedder Price, according to Reuters’ coverage of the case.

The suspension is effective Feb. 10.

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