We read a great deal about corporate officers and directors who are convicted of fraud or conspiracy. I often wonder where their outside lawyers were when these frauds were being committed. The answer is that, very often, they were in the same room.
Joseph Collins, a lawyer with the blue blood law firm Mayer Brown was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in assisting Refco, Inc. conceal debts owed to the company by its CEO.
This is part of a growing trend to hold outside counsel accountable for their role in abetting corporate fraud. Other notable convictions include:
– Raymond Ruble, a tax lawyer at Sidley Austin. He was sentenced to over 6 years in prison for his role in the sale of sham tax shelters by KPMG.
– Securities lawyers Melvyn Weiss and William Lerach. They each received sentences in excess of 2 years for paying kickbacks to lead plaintiffs and expert witnesses in the firm’s cases.
Just because a lawyer gives legal advice doesn’t mean the advice is “legal.” There will be more and more cases like this as legal work gets more competitive and lawyers are willing to take risks to keep and appease clients.