Attorney Misconduct, Biglaw, Legal Ethics, Money, Partner Issues, Weirdness

Sidley Austin Turned DLA Piper Partner Responds To Ethics Charges

Last year, we covered the mystery departure of Lee Smolen — the prominent real estate lawyer, not the famed theoretical physicist — from Sidley Austin. It may have been related to the ethics charges filed against Smolen, accusing him of conversion and breach of fiduciary duty through alleged filing of false expense claims.

Amazingly enough, Smolen got picked up as a partner by DLA Piper. The firm admitted that it “was aware of this matter during the hiring process.”

In order to deliver to DLA’s bottom line, Smolen will need to avoid suspension or disbarment. So he has filed a response to the Illinois ethics charges against him. What does Smolen have to say for himself, and is it persuasive?

You can read the full response here. Over at the Legal Profession Blog, Professor Michael Frisch pulls out the highlights:

The answer admits some facts but denies that any ethical rules were violated. With respect to the fabricated taxi cab receipts allegations, the answer states that “his submission of fabricated taxi receipts was a poorly conceived short cut around the firm’s reporting procedures in order to secure more time to address his substantial and demanding commitments to the firm.”

The improper reimbursements for gifts, sporting event tickets and holiday meals were the product of “inadvertent error or his occasional failure to pay sufficiently close attention to detail” and “inadvertent error and not wrongful intent.”

Lee Smolen

So it appears that Smolen, a former practice group head and member of Sidley’s executive committee, was a member of firm management who circumvented firm procedures. He was also, by his own admission, a transactional lawyer who failed to pay close attention to details.

Remember that these are his defenses. Otherwise, he’s guilty of conversion, i.e., a crook.

In a bygone era, large law firms would have steered clear of someone like Smolen. He’d have to go out and hang his own shingle, or retire early to enjoy his millions.

But times have changed. Firms are willing to take chances on people — well, maybe not on recent law school graduates or young lawyers, but on partners with possible portables.

Presumably the temptation of Lee Smolen’s book of business, even in a reduced or tarnished state, was too great for DLA Piper to resist. Welcome to Biglaw in 2013. Happy Hunger Games!

In the Matter of Lee Mark Smolen: Answer [Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission]
Lee Smolen Answers Bar Charges [Legal Profession Blog]
Ex-Sidley partner says $69K cab-fare reimbursement was used for firm-related purposes [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Mystery Departure Solved: Ex-Sidley Austin Partner Hit With Ethics Charges
Musical Chairs: A Sidley Austin Partner’s Mysterious Departure

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