The Business Litigation Blog

Chicagoland Attorney on Short Leash After Fabricating $69,000 in Receipts

A former Sidley Austin partner, Lee Smolen, has admitted to submitting $69,000 in fake taxi cab receipts.  He claims that he did so in order to circumvent the firm’s tight reimbursement policy.  He alleges that he made legitimate expenses in the same amount but it was too burdensome to file reimbursement claims for those expenses; so instead he filed for cab reimbursements (which he did not incur) because it was simpler to create cab expenses than other types of expense reports.  Smolen admitted that he submitted over 800 fabricated cab ride receipts, and has since reimbursed the firm for the falsified expenses.  

Smolen was forced to resign from Sidley Austin two years ago as a result of the fabricated receipt matter. Smolen was a partner at the firm from 2007 to 2012 in the firm’s real estate practice.  

Smolen admitted to fabricating the receipts before a recent hearing before the Illinois bar’s disciplinary board.  He claims that he did so in order to save time and focus on substantive work that would actually benefit the firm and to allow for more time to spend with his family.  

Perhaps even more surprising is that Mr. Smolen was a registered Certified Public Accountant at one time, although his license as a CPA expired in 2009.  Additionally, Smolen has allegedly falsely billed clients for services that were not performed.

New Work After Sidley Austin

Seventeen months ago Smolen was hired as a partner at DLA Piper in Chicago.  The firm has told the Illinois disciplinary board that they keep Smolen on a short leash. They carefully review all of his expense reports and his billable hours. Interestingly, at DLA Piper he has reported between 18 and 167 billable hours per month, while previously, at Sidley Austin, Smolen recorded nearly 300 per month.

Suspicious Billing to Clients

One thing that attorneys and clients must always keep in mind is that charges to clients are supposed to accurately represent work done for the client.  An attorney is not permitted, under the rules of professional conduct, to submit false or exaggerated expenses.  Doing so is obviously unfair to the client who is paying for services and related costs that have not been rendered, and it also can have a negative effect on the stature of lawyers in general.

As previously mentioned, Smolen allegedly falsely billed clients. In Smolen’s case, however, one client that was erroneously billed does not feel slighted by Smolen.  The client, Wells Fargo & Co., has stated that they have enjoyed working with Smolen and would look forward to working with him in the future-- that is, once this disciplinary matter is resolved.  

For Additional Questions About Legal Malpractice, Contact Knowledgeable Attorneys

Attorneys should adhere to strict standards when it comes to billing clients, and should never bill clients for services that have not been
performed. If you have more questions about legal malpractice or lawyer ethics or feel you have a case for legal malpractice, call or email the attorneys at the Patterson Law Firm for guidance. 

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