Legal ethics

Sorry to “ghost” on everybody

Life remains crazy for many, and the pandemic just doesn’t seem to have any intention of ending before it can have an extended Season 3 storyline. I almost hate to write these words and “jinx” it but my wife, my children, and I have continued to be able to avoid contracting Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean that life — personal life or work life — has continued in any form of normal fashion.

Events continue to be unsettling and mental bandwidth for many is a constant battle. I’ve managed – yet again – to neglect the blog and continue to play with fire of losing the interest of readers.

So, here I am, at least trying to make a bit of an effort. I was fortunate enough this week to spend some time on the telephone with a journalist who was doing a story about a Washington lawyer who was disbarred for “cheating” on his law firm by representing about 150 or so clients off the books of his firm.

I have seen situations in the past where lawyers have these kinds of “ghost” clients, but certainly never at the volume of this instance. When I first started digging into the underlying story, I was convinced it was going to be a more recent tale and that, at its heart, was going to be that the lawyer got away with it for a while at the volume in question because it was happening during the pandemic when firms have been struggling to wrestle to ground how to supervise lawyers who are away from the office, working from home, and otherwise feeling more autonomous. That case did not involve recent conduct, however, as that lawyer was undertaking this work from 2010 to 2019.

My contribution to the article focused on the potential that more lawyers might be trying things like this during the past two years but also highlighting just how much risk there is for a lawyer in doing so. Even though the underlying conduct wouldn’t even arguably be unethical in the absence of a contractual obligation to only work for the firm in question, any lawyer who starts trying to do “off the books” work likely heads down a path that inherently requires dishonesty and misrepresentation triggering violations of RPC 8.4 if nothing else. Plus, given that it becomes easy for a law firm to allege that what is occurring is theft, the lawyer can find themselves facing criminal exposure – and further ethical infractions. And, if the lawyer as part of trying to keep the conduct quiet, is also not paying taxes on the work involved there becomes federal criminal liability in the form of tax evasion to boot.

You can read the article here with a subscription (or just by registering if you are willing to burn your one free monthly article on it): Lack of Law Firm Oversight During Pandemic Could Make ‘Ghost Clients’ a More Common Problem |

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