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Davis v. Alabama State Bar
Alabama Supreme Court
676 So. 2d 306 (1996)
Attorneys William Davis III and Dan Goldberg (the partners) (defendants) were the only partners at the law firm Davis and Goldberg. The firm spent $500,000 annually advertising efficient, high-quality legal services, especially bankruptcy and social security filings, attracting a huge number of clients. To minimize expenses and maximize profits, associates took prospective client calls, but secretaries helped clients fill out paperwork and file claims. The firm essentially neglected cases and instructed associates not to return existing client calls or have any client contact until just before the first court appearance. Each associate had a limit on time spent with a client, a quota of new client files to open each month, and nearly 600 clients to represent and cases to manage. The Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Board (plaintiff) charged the partners with violating multiple ethics rules. Several former associates, secretaries, and clients testified at the hearing. One client whose dying husband’s social security benefits were delayed testified that the firm lost his paperwork multiple times, lied about filing his claim, and ultimately advised that the deadline to file had expired. The firm’s own expert testified that one attorney could not possibly handle the number of cases the firm assigned an associate. The board found the partners had violated eight ethics rules and suspended both from practicing law for 60 days but acquitted on the charge of false and misleading advertising. The partners appealed, arguing that the proceeding amounted to a “witch-hunt” because the bar did not approve of the firm’s advertising practices. The court upheld the board’s findings and the 60-day suspension. The partners requested rehearing, arguing that the allegations of false and misleading advertising did not warrant suspension.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Maddox, J.)
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