Not as obvious as you think: Ohio Lawyer Suspended for Billing More than 24 Hours in a Day

NOTE:  Normally I avoid wasting time with this kind of nonsense but for some reason I was moved to comment on this one…

OK, so big "news" this week is Ohio lawyer Kristin Ann Stahbush who has been suspended for billing more than 24 hours a day on three separate occasions.   The Ohio Supreme Court said Stahlbush failed to keep adequate records of the hours
she worked, submitted inflated fee requests, and sometimes “merely
guessed at the time she had spent on a case.” She had no prior
discipline, however, and was known as a competent and hardworking
lawyer.  Result: 2 year suspension.

If you want to know why I am very selective as to the lawyers I admit into my coaching groups (and why I encourage all my Members to be very selective as to which and what kind of lawyers you expose yourself to) all you have to do is look through the list of self-righteous commentary & "analysis" which follows the above story and mostly misses the point. 

To spare you the trouble of sifting through all that "noise" I've cut to the chase for you below and copied what I posted there for your direct consideration. 

Comment by RJon Robins:

Let's all stop making Ms. Stahlbush the butt of all these jokes and recognize that her predicament does not appear to be entirely of her own doing.   Here's what I mean…

The Ohio Disciplinary Committee did not revoke her license, they merely suspended it.  Presumably this is because they determined that the mistakes were not intentional.  So let's not just write Ms. Stahlbush off as a "bad lawyer".

The sad fact of the matter is that law schools do a generally poor job of preparing graduates to deal with the practical realities of managing the business-side of a law firm.  And there are very few CLE programs offered which focus on the practical realities of managing a law firm in the real world.

That is a world which exists with a hundred different demands, distractions & demands that a solo lawyer or owner of a small law firm function as both an effective advocate, counselor & adviser AND ALSO an effective owner, operator and manager of their business too.

Florida was the first State in the Country to create a formal Law Office Management Assistance Service program as both a benefit to Members and to prevent practice management related disciplinary complaints.  Perhaps if Ms. Stahlbush had been properly trained to start,, effectively manage and even profitably market her law firm this situation could have been avoided.

RJON ROBINS
"Because Happy  Lawyer Make More Money"

p.s. Lawyers who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  Think about how many hours you've invested learning how to be the best lawyer you can be, and compare that number to the hours you've invested learning how to be the best manager/operator of your law firm's business that you can be.  The difference between those two numbers is how much room for improvement there is likely in your own practice

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RJON

Bruce Godfrey 1 hour ago in reply to rjonrobins
Mr. Robins I hold you and your law practice management resources in very high regard, but there are some practices so inherently outrageous that it is perhaps even more frightening to imagine them as gross errors rather than as acts of dishonesty.
In my state we disbar lawyers for putting slugs in parking meters and the attorney in this situation ripped off the public for far more than 25 cents of parking time. How on earth does a non-dishonest person rack 25 hours billable in a 24 hour day? How does one reconcile this double-charging for the same time to the same ultimate payor? How can we as attorneys be entrusted by our courts to represent clients even facing death row, yet fail to be responsible for handling – as Ms. McGrane accurately noted – 4th grade definitions of the working clock and simple daily timesheet? I take no comfort in the failure of Ohio Bar Counsel to make the obvious case here for disbarment, unless Ohio discipline is simply rank with lassitude on frauds.
If you work in a delicatessen and you double bill for the same pounds of pastrami, swiss, whatever, and the county inspector catches you manipulation of the scale, you get fired and your job maybe gets fined $1000.00; what you don’t get is a sympathy crew from the deli workers’ union about middle management’s failure to warn you about not altering the scale. This is the difference between being a high school educated deli worker and an attorney under a sworn oath.
Your point that law practice management is poorly taught in law school has general merit – great merit – but it exonerates this persistent fraudster not one bit. Had she done it for one day, or even a week, one might excuse it as sloppiness. But a year? Malice aforethought is proven in murder cases with far less evidence, and we occasionally execute people for murder.
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rjonrobins 0 minutes ago in reply to Bruce Godfrey
Hi Bruce,
Thanks for your comments. I always enjoy reading what you post on Twitter & hold you in high regard also.
The thing to understand is that when a law firm’s records management systems & procedures are out of control it’s very hard for a lawyer to really understand where, when and how the revenues are coming-in, or going out.
It’s an over-simplification to say “well she saw her pre-bill was for 25 hours and sent it anyway”. That’s not the way these kinds of problems develop in most law firms.
Think about when you make a grocery list. OBVIOUSLY if you have it well-organized with eggs on the list twice, one just above the other, you’re going to know not to buy too many eggs. As a fail-safe at some point you’d expect you’re going to get to the second time you wrote eggs on the list and remember that you were just down that aisle a little while ago & see the eggs in the basket. And as a third fail-safe you’re going to get to the cashier & when you see two crates of eggs you’re going to know you made a mistake and put one of them back, right?
But imagine going to the store without a list. Just a bunch of little post it notes crumpled in your pocket each with whatever was on your mind to buy at the moment you made the note. But never assembled into an actual list you can review. And then imagine having to shop but WITHOUT being able to look & see what’s in your basket to remind yourself. And then similarly NOT being able to see the groceries as they get rung-up by the cashier. Until you get them home. And then, imagine just randomly stashing everything away without having assigned spaces or any sort of plan, so that A.) You have no way to know where to find what you need when you need it; and B.) You are unable to take a quick inventory the next time you’re headed to the store to know what to buy.
THAT’S EXACTLY HOW THOUSANDS OF LAWYERS MANAGE THE BILLING, A/R, PAYABLES, BUDGETING, & CASH FLOW OF THEIR LAW FIRMS.
So when I read about a lawyer billing more than 25 hours for a single day I look at the two bottles of ketchup in my pantry and I think about all I learned in the financial management & controls courses we all took back in law school. All NONE of them.
And that’s a big part of my point. Presumably the Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court found evidence of an out-of-control lawyer and not a dishonest one. How else do we explain the one year suspension instead of outright disbarment?
In direct response to your questions though, here are my answers:
You wrote: “How can we as attorneys be entrusted by our courts to represent clients even facing death row, yet fail to be responsible for handling…4th grade definitions of the working clock and simple daily timesheet?”
My answer: THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I’VE BEEN UP HERE ON MY SOAP BOX FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS. Because one skill set (effectively advocating a client’s legal position) has NOTHING to do with the other skill-set, or lack-thereof: Book Keeping. This is why I’ve been offering my FREE IOLTA Client Property Trust Account Management Training Videos at http://www.LawyerControl.com
You wrote: “This is the difference between being a high school educated deli worker and an attorney under a sworn oath.” Yes, there are many differences; But being inherently skilled to effectively manage the financials of either a law firm or a deli, isn’t one of those the differences.
Rhetorical Question: How does being an attorney under a sworn oath inherently prepare anyone to install, manage & maintain effective financial controls over a law firm?
That’s why the title to my free IOLTA client property trust account management includes the reference to “without feeling like a schmuck”. Because even though most lawyers deny it in public, in private that’s exactly how thousands of lawyers actually feel when faced with the duty to protect client property, but not the skills to actually do so efficiently or effectively.
You wrote: “…but it exonerates this persistent fraudster not one bit…”
Perhaps I was too subtle in my previous posts including the original post at my blog to which Carolyn responded (http://rjonrobins.typepad.com – See post from August 28th).
So here I will be blunt: ANY LAWYER WHO HAS NOT TAKEN A BOOK KEEPING COURSE AND DELEGATES THE ADMINISTRATION OF HIS OR HER CLIENT BILLING (AND IOLTA) TO SOMEONE ELSE IS LITTLE BETTER THAN MS. STAHLBUSH. BECAUSE IT IS UNETHICAL TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR SOMETHING YOU HAVE INADEQUATE TRAINING FOR. AND IT IS DOWNRIGHT STUPID TO DELEGATE SOMETHING AS IMPORTANT AS CLIENT PROPERTY AND BILLING TO SOMEONE-ELSE, WHEN YOU HAVE INADEQUATE TRAINING TO KNOW IF THEY’RE DOING THE JOB RIGHT.
My point about Ms. Stahlbush was not to exonerate her one bit.
My point is that there but for the grace of luck and guessing goes tens of thousands of lawyers who similarly have ZERO training in law firm management and financial controls.
The State may not be executing them, but they’re killing THEMSELVES the way they’re trying to run their law firms.
Especially when it could be so much more profitable & fun if they’d only learn to do it right.
~RJON