For Robyn Glassman-Katz, the gig with lemon law firm, Kimmel and Silverman must have seemed like nirvana; an opportunity for a lawyer with limited consumer law experience to run a branch office of a nationally known law firm. Likewise, Kimmel and Silverman must have believed that it hit the jackpot when it found Glassman-Katz, a local Maryland attorney who came highly recommended by colleagues, to man its Owings Mills office. But as with most things that sound too good, the alliance between Kimmel and Silverman and Glassman-Katz ended in tragedy, with one lawyer consenting to disbarment and another two on the verge of indefinite suspension. If you think this situation can’t happen to you, read on to learn what went wrong and how to avoid this kind of mess.
Back in 2004, Kimmel & Silverman hired Glassman Katz to run a local Maryland office. In the ensuing year, Glassman Katz filed over 500 cases, many in the wrong venue. With others, she failed to respond to discovery. Glassman-Katz claims that she begged her bosses for the help of a paralegal or another lawyer, but to no avail. Eventually, the court dismissed many of the cases, and Glassman-Katz failed to disclose the dismissal to the clients. The Attorney Grievance Commission filed charges against Glassman Katz in July 2006, and though she claimed that the firm failed to supervise her adequately, she eventually consented to disbarment.
The Committee then turned its attention to the firm, which claimed that it never knew of the problems until after Glassman Katz left. But the Maryland Court of Appeals wasn’t buying that argument, in a hearing held last Friday. Judges suggested that Kimmel and Silverman should not have taken Glassman-Katz at her word that the cases were under control, but should have checked the docket periodically to see for themselves – – particularly after 47 cases were dismissed. Right now, the court is considering whether Silverman and Kimmel, who are not licensed in Maryland, should face indefinite suspension – which may have adverse consequences for their licenses in other jurisdictions.
The lessons here? If you’re a solo (or any lawyer) called upon to handle cases for a firm, either for a salary or in exchange for space, you’ve got to know your limits. If you find that you can’t handle a case or don’t know what to do, just stop. Give the cases back, and move on. You’ll find better opportunities. Likewise, if cases begin to pile up or you can’t keep pace, you need to tell the hiring employer, regardless of the short term consequence of embarrasment or facing the lawyer’s wrath. The longer term consequence of losing a license is far worse.
On the hiring attorney’s side, while hiring a lawyer on the basis of a personal recommendation makes sense, you still need to engage in due diligence. That includes checking work product, interviewing a lawyer to see how her or she will handle certain problems and keep you up to date on progress and reviewing the lawyer’s writing samples and written work. And you need to install systems to make a hire accountable so that you can keep on top of what’s going on. I suspect in this case that this firm looked the other way in part because it was getting a good deal – cheap labor who was bringing in revenues worth two, three or even four times what the firm was paying her. But again, is the short term gain of 20 or 30 or even 50k per year worth losing a license to practice not to mention destroying another lawyer’s career in the process? Not to me – and I hope, not for any of you either.