Legal Ethics

Misleading GoFundMe appeal with offer for free legal advice leads to lawyer’s suspension

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A Charleston, West Virginia, lawyer who set up a misleading GoFundMe page to fund his transition to solo practice has been suspended from law practice.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals suspended the lawyer, Mark Allen Glover, for 42 months in a Jan. 10 order. He also received a public reprimand. The West Virginia Record and the Charleston Gazette-Mail have stories; a press release is here.

A state disciplinary board hearing subcommittee found that the GoFundMe page violated ethics rules regarding misleading representations and solicitation of clients.

The page had offered free legal advice to donors.

Glover first erred when he converted more than $12,000 from a youth soccer league to his personal account while he was serving as its treasurer, according to an Oct. 5 recommendation for discipline by the hearing panel subcommittee.

The theft violated ethics rules barring conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, the panel subcommittee said. He was not criminally charged.

Glover repaid the funds in summer 2017 after a member of the soccer board discovered the theft. The discovery caused him to leave or be fired from his job at an insurance defense law firm.

Glover self-reported the theft to lawyer disciplinary authorities in September 2017, explaining that he had intended to repay the funds.

Glover set up a GoFundMe account that same month that said he needed funds for a transition to solo practice. The fundraising appeal said the move was based on a decision to help children.

“After nearly 20 years of practicing law, I have finally found what I was meant to be doing,” the appeal said. “I have transitioned from an insurance defense practice to becoming a sole practitioner representing individuals and families. My primary focus is helping children who have been abused and/or neglected.”

Glover went on to say that his employer asked him to leave immediately after learning of his plans to go solo. “Given the short notice, I was not able to build up my savings, and I am now struggling to meet my personal expenses,” he wrote.

“It is my intention to return any gifts once my income become steady, and I will be happy to offer free legal advice (if I can) to my benefactors as well.”

Glover had testified that he took the soccer money while going through a divorce, suffering from depression and having financial difficulties.

He said he intended the GoFundMe page to be distributed only to some of his family members, and he didn’t realize it was public until he learned of it from ethics regulators. The page was live for only a few days, and Glover did not receive any donations.

Glover acknowledged that some of the information in the fundraising appeal was inaccurate and misleading. He also acknowledged it was wrong to offer free legal services in return for a donation.

West Virginia’s chief judicial disciplinary counsel handled the ethics investigation because the chief lawyer disciplinary counsel was a soccer official and recused her office from the investigation.

Glover did not immediately return a voice message left by the ABA Journal.

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.

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