Lawyers get firm in trouble

June 10, 2009
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Do you remember back in school when a couple students in class would act up and the teacher would punish the entire class to make a point that type of behavior isn’t allowed? That’s pretty much what happened Friday to Bose McKinney & Evans when U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney sanctioned the firm for the actions of a few of its attorneys and staff.

The sanctions stemmed from discovery issues in a drawn-out lawsuit in which Bose represented a company in Evansville that denied using certain chemicals on site. Turns out, the attorneys on the case did learn through evidence and deposition testimony the chemicals were used, but instead of encouraging their client to come clean, they just pressed ahead like they didn’t know the chemicals were used. Read more about the sanctions here.

Judge McKinney described the attorneys as “chameleons” who helped their client to evade the truth.

Sanctioning an entire firm for conduct violating the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is unusual, he noted in the order, but necessary because the firm should be held accountable because three partners had knowledge of its client’s “apparent disregard” for discovery rules, and the firm failed to properly supervise an associate and paralegal who had knowledge of adverse facts. The two principal litigators in the case are no longer with the firm, according to a statement from Bose.

The 66-page order is a humdinger filled with discovery violations and examples of attorneys not following the rules and basically turning a blind eye or passing the buck on responsibility.

What do you think about the sanctions? Is it surprising or appropriate given the conduct of the client and attorneys?
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  • Someone once told me that
  • I commend the judge for sanctioning these attorneys. This is so shameful. I\'d fire these attorneys.
  • This story is a perfect example of what can happen when an attorney fails to realize that his first duty is to uphold the law. Attorneys can become too zealous in representing clients, and the result is often a blurring of the line between attorneys and clients.

    As to the judge calling an entire firm into question over the actions of a few attorneys, often the type of activity engaged in by these attorneys can only happen where the senior members of the firm or legal office have lost sight of the proper role for attorneys within the office.
  • So are you saying that the firm has no responsibility for the actions of its partners, who were in court as members of that firm? Interesting suggestion. I\'ll bet the managing partner was quite pleased at the fees the FIRM was earning on this litigation.
  • Do you remember back in school when a couple students in class would act up and the teacher would punish the entire class to make a point that type of behavior isn’t allowed? -- This is not an apt comparison. Did four of the students have a solemn agreement to act together, one for all and all for one? (In grade school, this would have been a gang, not a firm.) Did the teacher then punish the whole gang when one acted up?

    The industrialization of the practice of law and corresponding dominance of mega-firms has allowed the theoretical basis for collective practice to become obscured. Shared responsibility for the representation of a client must be truly and wholly shared, for all purposes, or it is a sham creating both pitfalls for the unwary and cover for the unscrupulous.
  • Well stated Brian Stanley.
  • ...and the teacher would punish the entire class. Curious that you would lead with a manifestly false analogy. The teacher has engaged in collective punishment, something understood in the adult world as unlawful if not a war crime (except when perpetrated by the US government and Israel -- but I digress). A law firm is a partnership, in which the partners act as agents for each other, agree in advance to be legally responsible for each other\'s actions, and share profits and losses. Holding such an entity liable as opposed to individual partners may raise some policy issues, but they have nothing to do with collective punishment.

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