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Ethical Lawyer Takes Stand Against Unethical Employer

by Sherie
(California )

Boy oh boy.... My story goes back a year or more and I finally gave 2 weeks notice last Friday!! I'm so happy it will all be over soon, yet worried about not having a replacement job, limited savings, and plenty of bills.

My Employer (e) is an attorney and owner of small firm. 2 years ago he had 3 employee attorneys, including myself. Since then, they have all quit, e never hired replacements and I carry the majority of the case load with 140 cases. I started my legal career at this firm and my title was managing attorney for the last 4 of the 6 1/2 years.

Long story short, a few years ago financial difficulties caused cuts and E's non attorney wife got involved to try and save $$. There had been significant tension between us since that time since her cuts, including cutting my assistant,, necessarily made my work more difficult.

I send critical e-mails on numerous occasions begging for adequate support staff. Promises of hiring another attorney abandoned. E and wife's lack of general ethics growing more obvious causes me to start documenting via e-mails. Lies, deceit, I know in have to find another job so I send many resumes and one interview without success.

5 months ago e dumps a case on me that is very complex and riddled with malpractice. I salvage it the best I can but keep begging for assistance since it is really over my head, I have only one paralegal who is part time and shares that time with 6 contractor attorneys that lease office space, and i have no trial experience!

As trial nears e responds to my pleas by telling me contractor attorney (c) will assist me if I share my commissions with him. C has no experience and I am appalled by suggestion I pay for much needed assistance. I send critical email rejecting the offer.

I haven't gone much into the horrible working conditions since E's wife hates me as I am always sticking up for other employees against her unethical ways and I call her on not following labor rules or our own employee handbook, mainly because I figure this isn't going to get me the UI after quitting. I don't even go into the fights we had over a commission cut, but got back eventually so this can't be viewed as my reason. Secretly I am angry that since getting my pay back, E quit giving me new cases to starve me. I haven't bitched about that either since I figure that won't get me UM either and don't think I can prove he is doing it to get my resignation.

My reason for quitting as outlined on my resignation letter is "I am no longer able to effectively represent clients due to severe deficiencies in legal staffing, mentoring, and professional ethics". I did not say I had to get out before I screwed up the complex case I mentioned earlier, but I did state that "I am confident that
continued pursuit of employment with ***** would only serve to compromise my good standing with the California Bar and the numerous clients I currently represent".

I felt I had to quit to protect myself and bar license. that seems a plenty good reason to me combined with heated e-mails for a long time that I need assistance!!!

Am I missing anything?? I'm going to apply for UI in a few weeks. I know he will oppose it! What mistakes have I made in my thought process? I really did quit cuz I felt like I had no choice but was also careful to evidence this while ignoring the 50 other things that made me want to rip out E's hair and scratch his wife's eyeballs out!

I'm mad because I feel so screwed over after 6 1/2 years of putting out fires and fixing other people's mistakes and 100% integrity on my part. Now that I have my resignation, e sent a letter to staff that I am not allowed to settle any cases without E's written permission. Like I am the one without ethics!!! Help!!! :-)

Hi Sherie,

Lawyer eh? You know that I am not a lawyer .. right? And anything I may write, or say is for
informational purposes only for fellow at-will employees, most having no real employment contract that might allow them to negotiate the terms and conditions of hire, but an employee handbook they sign for with an "at will disclaimer at the front stating the "rules" are subject to the disclaimer ..

Ah well, sounds like your employer may of corrected most of the more concrete reason, subject to you having the hard evidence to prove. It also sounds as if your resignation letter makes your reason more along the line os
Ethical, Moral, or Philosophical Objection.

Unfortunately, California's UIBDG states there isn't a precedent on the books for the cause of ethical objections, so it's all in the argument, but if it were me .. although I get the "ethical objection" I'd still prefer to argue at a hearing on appeal, something concrete, unresolved by the employer and documented by me, that I could to connect to, or even replace my moral objection, with a quit due to the working conditions the employer was wholly unreasonable about. (Of course you do have a very expensive license at stake which is of primary concern to you and which you're afraid your employer could damage irreparably).

Main reason I prefer concrete reasons and causes however is that the claimant, heading into appeal hearings all by their lonely to face their former employer, (always more experienced) is usually struck dumb when they hear their former employer credibly, lying their ass off and unable to rebut the lies, is accepted as the truth by an unbiased .. impartial, pro employer ALJ given wide discretion by law, to determine credibility.

But, you've got something going for you .. you know better than I do what it means to think like a lawyer.

Much luck,


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