Falsifying Billable Hours: Never Worth It
Is it a victimless crime for a lawyer to overstate a legal bill but never send the bill to the client?
Probably not, but the results were about the same for one Louisiana attorney. Kenneth Todd Wallace was suspended from law practice for 30 months because he falsified hours to his law firm.
It's a sad story for an attorney who had risen to the top, serving on the firm's board of directors, as a hiring partner and leader on important committees. It also shows that the pressure of billable hours is sometimes too much even for leading lawyers.
Too Much Pressure
It all caught up with Wallace in November 2015, when the firm's compensation committee noticed irregularities in his billing. An audit showed that he had been falsifying hours for three years.
Wallace promptly resigned and renounced his partnership bonus. He then self-reported his misconduct to the state bar.
Under oath, Wallace testified that he faked his hours to keep up with billable expectations in his leadership position. He basically tried to "make himself look better on paper."
The firm said Wallace earned his bonuses, and that his offer to return $85,000 exceeded the billables. No clients were ever harmed, they said.
The state Supreme Court, reviewing a recommended discipline of one year by a hearing committee, said his conduct created "significant potential harm to the firm." The court also denounced his years-long pattern of deception.
The court then suspended Wallace for 30 months, with all but 12 months deferred. The suspension was retroactive, so he basically got credit for time served.
TaxProf Blog reported that the decision effectively reinstated him to practice law.
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