My Shingle

You Gotta Know When to Fold…

by Carolyn Elefant on September 23, 2005 · 2 comments

in Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Mistakes/What NOT To Do, Quitting Solo

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While you may never find an ideal time to start a firm, hopefully, you’ll realize when it’s time to stop.  The attorney described in this article, Attorney Loses License Again, Kevin Eigelbach (9/21/05) apparently didn’t so now the bar’s stopped his practice for him.  Attorney Gabbard of Kentucky has been suspended from practice for 21 months for neglecting two cases.   Gabbard, who’d never had a complaint before and  even  won a  pro bono award, claimed that  his wife’s illness  prevented him  from  carrying  out his obligations which probably was a consideration.  But given the amounts paid in these cases – $950 in one and $450 in the other, I’m wondering whether after 2 decades of practice, Gabbard just couldn’t get himself motivated for the amount of money involved.  That doesn’t excuse his conduct of course, since for his clients, those amounts may have been substantial.  But for me, the lesson is that if you can’t get yourself going to handle smaller matters, then don’t take them to begin with or farm them out and take a break.  Better than a forced respite from practice.

Update:
See Lisa Solomon’s comments on this story below, pointing out the impact that illness can have on a solo practice and more importantly, the need to get assistance when that happens.

  • http://www.QuestionOfLaw.net Lisa Solomon

    I can’t speak to this particular case, but I know that the illness of a spouse can, indeed, cause an attorney to neglect his practice, through no fault his own.
    Last year, a sole practitioner was referred to me for assistance in drafting a motion to vacate an order dismissing a personal injury case in which a retarded man was badly injured in a fire for failure to prosecute. While the case was pending, the attorney’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and died after a long illness. The repercussions from his wife’s death (she was also his secretary and they had no children) triggered a depression during which he failed after many reminders to put the case on the trial calendar. After the case was dismissed, I drafted a motion to vacate the dismissal, supported by affidavits from the attorney’s psychiatrist (his colleagues had begged him to seek treatment). The dismissal was vacated, and today the attorney called to tell me the case had settled for $3 million. In the case you wrote about, the attorney likely did not suffer from a garden-variety lack of motivation: he may have suffered from depression or another mental illness triggered by his and his wife’s medical problems. However, without the right assistance, he might not be willing or able to admit this to himself, much less to the disciplinary authorities. Luckily, the case I worked on did not reach the disciplinary authorities.
    I think both of these cases point out the importance of lawyer assistance programs sponsored by bar associations.

  • http://www.QuestionOfLaw.net Lisa Solomon

    I can’t speak to this particular case, but I know that the illness of a spouse can, indeed, cause an attorney to neglect his practice, through no fault his own.
    Last year, a sole practitioner was referred to me for assistance in drafting a motion to vacate an order dismissing a personal injury case in which a retarded man was badly injured in a fire for failure to prosecute. While the case was pending, the attorney’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and died after a long illness. The repercussions from his wife’s death (she was also his secretary and they had no children) triggered a depression during which he failed after many reminders to put the case on the trial calendar. After the case was dismissed, I drafted a motion to vacate the dismissal, supported by affidavits from the attorney’s psychiatrist (his colleagues had begged him to seek treatment). The dismissal was vacated, and today the attorney called to tell me the case had settled for $3 million. In the case you wrote about, the attorney likely did not suffer from a garden-variety lack of motivation: he may have suffered from depression or another mental illness triggered by his and his wife’s medical problems. However, without the right assistance, he might not be willing or able to admit this to himself, much less to the disciplinary authorities. Luckily, the case I worked on did not reach the disciplinary authorities.
    I think both of these cases point out the importance of lawyer assistance programs sponsored by bar associations.

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