Risk Update

Risk News — DQ Undone, Law Firm Confidentiality & Security, Lawyer Governance & Compliance

Big Lots’ Ohio Attys Wrongfully DQ’d From Calif. Wage Fight” —

  • “A California appellate court has vacated the disqualification of several Ohio attorneys representing Big Lots in an overtime pay dispute, determining that a state court jumped the gun by revoking their temporary admission to work on the putative class action after they solicited current and former employees.”
  • “Rather than disqualify the Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease LLP attorneys, the San Diego County Superior Court could have temporarily barred them from continuing to solicit the discount retailer’s current and former employees in the case while it sorted out the dispute, the Fourth Appellate District held Friday.”
  • “The lower court could have determined whether by contacting store and district managers who could prospectively be deposed in the case, Vorys lawyers Michael J. Ball, Jocelyn M. Hoffman and Daniel J. Clark were engaging in ethical misconduct that called for a corrective action, the three-judge panel determined.”
  • “‘But in advance of such a hearing and appropriately supported findings, the circumstances did not justify barring all further participation by Big Lots’ counsel of choice based on conduct that occurred before the issue was ever presented to the trial court,’ the opinion said.”
  • “‘The evidence adduced so far merely shows that Vorys and Big Lots innocently misinterpreted two pro forma orders granting routine pro hac vice applications,’ the opinion said. ‘Without more, that is an insufficient basis to effectively disqualify Big Lots’ counsel of choice.'”
  • “A California federal court also weighed in on the dispute involving the Vorys attorneys in a related case. It determined in May that the lawyers did not exceed the scope of the authority the federal court granted them when they asked the workers if they wished for the firm to represent them as they participated in depositions as nonparty witnesses.”

Alleged Pillow Talk Via Email” —

  • “An attorney who allegedly provided his spouse with unfettered access to his law firm email account has been charged with violations of the duty of confidentiality by Ohio Disciplinary Counsel.”
  • “The spouse is not an attorney and was not employed by the law firm. She is a ‘content metadata specialist for a large corporation.'”
  • “The conduct was discovered by the firm shortly after the attorney moved to another firm when one of the attorney’s former clients sought the case file. An associate with access to his computer files found “derogatory” comments about firm employees.”
  • “He allegedly gave his user name, password and firm domain information to his spouse one week after starting there. He was at the firm for nearly four years. The remarkable allegations are that he shared client confidential financial information with his spouse, that she had regular access to “client names, case types and descriptions of their legal issues,” and that she reviewed and sometimes edited his work emails.”

And Noel Semple is Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law writes on SLAW: “If You See Something, Say Nothing: Why Lawyers Don’t Report to the Law Society” —

  • “In identifying professional misconduct, legal regulators are heavily reliant on client complaints and receive relatively little help from practitioners. For example, 71% of complaints to the Law Society of Ontario in 2019 were brought forward by members of the public (typically clients) while only 12% came from legal professionals. The problem is that there are many forms of professional misconduct that only professionals, and not clients, can readily identify. Misconduct therefore goes undetected, leaving clients and others to be victimized by bad lawyers who should have been caught after previous offences.”
  • “Lawyers have a duty to report certain types of misconduct, which listed in Rule 7.1-3. This includes any ‘conduct that raises a substantial question as to another licensee’s honesty, trustworthiness, or competency as a licensee’ and ‘any situation in which a lawyer’s clients are likely to be materially prejudiced.’ It is not clear that this rule is sufficiently understood and appreciated by practicing lawyers. I have personally heard lawyers describe professional misconduct which they would undoubtedly characterize as passing these thresholds, without any sense that reporting it might be an ethical obligation.”
  • “Why don’t legal professionals complain more often about the bad eggs? I have asked lawyers this question. Some do not think the Law Society will do anything even if they do complain. Others are reluctant to play the role of ‘snitch’ or ‘tattle-tale.’ They perceive that their professional relationships will suffer if they complain about a fellow lawyer, even if the complaint is amply warranted. A complaint might create a grudge which would make it difficult to work with the individual in the future.”
  • See the complete article for recommendations and community commentary