Once . . . I Had It All
Disbarred: I lost my career and much, much more.
You have seen me on the mall, in a store or at church. You’ve looked away, avoided eye contact, hoped I would go away. People I’ve known for 20 years cross the street to avoid me. You act like I don’t exist and you hope never to see me again. You may have interviewed me to be a paralegal, only never to call back when I told you my history.
It’s okay, I deserve it. I’m a disbarred lawyer.
The Docket asked me to write my story in the hope that it might shock some careless or dishonest lawyers into paying attention.
I don’t want this to sound like self-pity. The truth is, I made some huge mistakes. The truth also is that lawyers I used to know don’t speak to me anymore. I want to talk about integrity and the virtue of doing the right thing, all the time, no matter what personal or financial strain you may be feeling. I’ve learned much from my journey and hope I can help others avoid a terrible mistake.
You should know that this could happen to almost anyone, in a weak moment, faced with temptation. I could be male or female, black, white, Asian, or Latino, old or young, rich or poor. I believe we’re all weak in some respects. Some think a lawyer should be super human and above all the shortcomings and pressures of society. In fact, we are not.
Once upon a time I had it all. All I ever wanted to be was a lawyer. Everything I did was focused upon being the best lawyer I could be. I helped hundreds of people with their problems. Status and good fortune came early to me and there was no way but up. I was fulfilled in every way except a personal one, and it seemed important enough to cause me to steal. At the time, in my own mind, what I did was not harming anyone. In reality, it was theft, pure and simple. A wise judge once told me: "Never compromise your reputation; it is all you have in this profession." Obviously, I didn’t listen well enough.
I spent my entire career building up a solid reputation. I never had a complaint from any client; never any prior disciplinary proceedings; and was viewed as skilled, competent, and well-versed. In one day, it was all gone. Not only did I lose my profession and my source of income, I lost virtually every thing else, including my place in society. Where does a disbarred lawyer fit in? Nowhere! You’re shunned and abandoned like somebody’s daily trash. Not even your family wants to see you. Worst of all, you know you deserve it.
There are many suicides, divorces, and family breakups among lawyers who are disbarred because the future seems very bleak. What I decided, from the day I was caught, was that I would pay for my mistakes and learn from them. From every door slammed in my face and from every person who walked the other way, I tried to learn something.
I couldn’t have gotten through this without my wife; she’s given me the emotional support that has helped me to keep trying. I’ve taken every kind of temporary position you can imagine to make a living. I called the bar association legal placement service to see if I could get work as a paralegal; they wouldn’t even consider trying to place me. I have other friends now; all are non-lawyers who know nothing of my error.
It’s been a long road back, but I’ve found meaning in my life again. One lawyer has had the guts to give me some paralegal work and help me keep my legal skills as up-to-date as possible. We tell everyone we work with about my background—some want me working on their cases, others don’t. I still yearn to be a lawyer, and one day hope to apply for readmission, although I know it will be an uphill battle. I believe I can still serve the community and the profession.
My more selfish motive is that I have a child who wants to be a lawyer. I hate the idea that my sins may be visited on my child. I want my children to be proud of me, and would like to regain the respect of others.