It takes more than legal smarts to rise to the top of the legal profession. Those who have captured the brass ring of law firm partnership, whether by opening your own shop or by elevation, know you need coin to get it done. That’s right, we’re talking about capital contributions — that is, the amount of money an individual is required to put into a firm before they’re a partner.
Attorney James Thomas Rollins of Illinois was the subject of a disciplinary action for falsifying records related to his capital contribution. In 2016, he agreed to start a firm with three other lawyers. Rollins was to make $100,000 in capital contributions in exchange for his ownership interest. He was to receive credits towards that $100k for startup expenses. And, as reported by ABA Journal, that’s where things go off the rails:
Rollins submitted three fake invoices purporting to show that he had paid $81,000 in expenses, even though he actually paid only $18,000 for expenses, the review board said, citing findings by a hearing board. That meant that Rollins tried to defraud his firm of $63,000, according to the ethics allegations.
When a firm partner asked about the invoices, Rollins said he could provide additional documentation. He then provided two phony checks to show that he had paid the invoices and submitted a fictitious bank statement, the review board said.
His soon-to-be partners called him on the fake docs, Rollins admitted to it, apologized, and made $100K worth of payments to the firm. But there was still the matter of legal ethics, which definitely frowns on creating fake documents.
Ultimately, an Illinois review board decided on a five-month suspension. They acknowledged mitigating factors which decreased the severity of the sanction.
“While [Rollins’] misconduct was very serious, we believe that—in light of the mitigation in this case—a five-month suspension properly addresses the serious nature of the misconduct,” the review board said.
Mitigating factors included:
• Rollins acknowledged his misconduct, accepted responsibility and expressed genuine remorse.
• Rollins had “an unblemished 10-year career in the legal profession” before his misconduct in 2017.
• Rollins fully cooperated in the disciplinary process and consistently acknowledged wrongdoing.
• Rollins was under stress at the time of the misconduct, which took place over a period of less than eight months. He had two infants and was struggling to save his marriage.
• Rollins was active in the community, provided pro bono services and served on bar committees.
• Two lawyers testified to Rollins’ good character. One of the lawyers hired Rollins to work at his firm in 2021 and said he trusts Rollins, who is an excellent attorney with an excellent reputation for truth and veracity.
While the falsification of documents is a real problem, in light of the above factors, the review board determined the suspension was “appropriate and fair.”
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon @Kathryn1@mastodon.social.
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