Lawyer Who Felt Pressure to Inflate Hours Is Suspended

By Samson Habte

A lawyer who submitted false time entries because he was concerned “that his billable hours were not commensurate with his leadership position” in a New Orleans firm was suspended from practice for one year by the Louisiana Supreme Court Sept. 22 ( In re Wallace , 2017 BL 336988, La., No. 2017-B-0525, 9/22/17 ).

The lawyer, Kenneth Todd Wallace, didn’t charge any clients for the falsely billed time, which added up to more than 1,000 hours over a four-year period. His actions, the court said, were instead fueled by a desire to “look better on paper” at his former firm, Liskow & Lewis APLC, after a series of promotions that included his election to the firm’s board of directors.

The fact that no clients were harmed, and “significant” mitigating factors—including Wallace’s resignation from the firm and voluntary renunciation of an $85,000 bonus—prompted the court to impose a 30-month suspension from practice with all but 12 months of that suspension deferred.

The court said Wallace began to submit false time entries after he joined the firm’s board of directors and “saw firsthand” the “extraordinary billable hours and business dollars generated by key leaders of the firm.”

“When his practice began to decline, respondent gave in to his own internal pressures and began to submit false time on a dismissed contingency fee matter, and eventually other matters, in an effort to make himself look better on paper each month,” the per curiam opinion said.

Several members of Liskow & Lewis testified that Wallace would have met the firm’s billing targets without the inflated hours. According to the court, those colleagues “did not believe a desire for bonus money was what drove respondent to submit false billable hours.”

The court found that Wallace violated Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which prohibits dishonesty.

Dane S. Ciolino, New Orleans, represented Wallace. The ODC was represented by Chief Disciplinary Counsel Charles B. Plattsmier, Baton Rouge, La.

To contact the reporter on this story: Samson Habte in Washington at shabte@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: S. Ethan Bowers at sbowers@bna.com

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