Does Wilful Unauthorised Legal Employment by Attorney Warrant Punishment Despite No Harm Caused to Any Party ?
In Florida Bar v. Gillin, 484 So. 2d 1218 (Fla. 1986), an attorney was suspended for six months for the misdirection of fees which a client had paid directly to him rather than to his firm.
There, the attorney had made restitution for the fees, resulting in no continuing harm to any party.
The referee properly considered Gillin's absence of prior disciplinary history, his character and reputation, his community involvement, and full restitution to the firm in imposing a six-month suspension.
In Florida Bar v. Cox, 655 So. 2d 1122 (Fla. 1995) the court imposed a thirty-day suspension for similar "moonlighting" activities.
There, Cox accepted clients without the knowledge and consent of the firm, which violated a firm policy against unauthorized outside legal employment.
Cox initially denied that he had engaged in "moonlighting" while employed as an associate with the law firm, and initially even denied that he had represented those outside clients and collected legal fees from them. Cox was found to be in violation of Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-8.4(c) for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation for the performance of legal services for clients without the consent or authorization of the law firm and attempting to conceal the fact from his employer.
As the court noted in Cox:
Although Cox's conduct may not have caused serious harm to the clients or the firm where he was employed, the facts reflect a pattern of intentional misconduct and deception which warrants serious punishment.
Cox continued to engage in unauthorized legal employment even after he was specifically warned against it, and, even more importantly, willfully deceived the firm about his conduct. 655 So. 2d at 1123.