Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyer Must Pay Former Firm $775,000 for Taking Client Files

A Missouri lawyer accused of taking 22,000 electronic data files on a USB flash drive from her former law firm has been held in contempt, jailed for two days, and ordered to pay the firm more than $775,000.

The money will reimburse the firm for attorney fees, plus the costs of investigating the case and retaining a forensics expert, according to court records in the case.

The attorney worked as an associate with the firm from June 2016 until February 2018, when she voluntarily resigned.

“In a confession of judgment filed Sept. 20, [the attorney] said she took about 22,000 data files from the law firm in February 2018, about a week before her resignation,” reports the ABA Journal. “She agreed to a permanent injunction requiring her to delete or return the files to the law firm and to pay $557,292—in addition to $218,414 in damages already awarded to the law firm.”

A St. Louis County judge found that the attorney failed to return the files relating to law firm clients, despite a prior contempt finding. Some of the files she took were for clients she did not represent and never had represented, according to the ABA Journal.

Read news accounts of the case here and here. Read pleadings in the case here and here.

Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4: Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer;
(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;
(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official;
(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law; or
(g) intentionally prejudice or damage his or her client during the course of the professional relationship, except as may be required by Rule 3.3.

Comment [1] Lawyers are subject to discipline when they violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so or do so through the acts of another, as when they request or instruct an agent to do so on the lawyer’s behalf.

Comment [2] Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation. A lawyer’s dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation is not mitigated by virtue of the fact that the victim may be the lawyer’s partner or law firm. A lawyer who steals funds, for instance, is guilty of a serious disciplinary violation regardless of whether the victim is the lawyer’s employer, partner, law firm, client, or a third party.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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