California Bar Journal
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Trio suspended after forming alliance with non-lawyer
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Three California attorneys were suspended and placed on probation as a result of their involvement with a non-lawyer who improperly solicited clients. ROBERT LEE [#161054], 42, of Sacramento, and brothers RICHARD ALLEN SHORE [#109421], 47, also of Sacramento, and DAVID MICHAEL SHORE [#78929], 49, of Oceanside were disciplined last summer. The Shores were suspended for one year stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 45-day actual suspension, and were ordered to take the MPRE. Lee received an identical sentence, except he was actually suspended for 60-days.

Lee and David Shore stipulated that they formed an improper relationship with a non-lawyer and improperly shared legal fees with him. Richard Shore stipulated that he failed to adequately supervise non-attorneys with whom he worked.

The three men's downfall was working with Quincy Tran, a non-lawyer who opened a personal injury law firm in Sacramento in 1992 with Bann Mui, an attorney who also was disciplined last year. Tran was successful at attracting Vietnamese clients, and he also hired several Russian employees who were able to generate clients from the Russian community.

Tran and Mui entered into an agreement under which Tran found the clients; provided office space and furniture; hired, paid and supervised office staff, including investigators and clerical workers; and received 70 percent of the attorneys fees. Mui received 30 percent.

Tran paid the employees a salary plus bonuses based on 10 percent of the profits received from cases brought in to the office.

Because of the practice's success, Tran wanted to move to larger quarters in mid-1993. Mui wanted to discontinue his association with Tran because he realized it was improper.

Practice sold

In April 1993, Mui agreed to sell the law practice to the Shore brothers over a period of about eight months; in the interim, the firm was called Shore Shore & Mui. The new firm took over cases which had been opened in Mui's name and the three attorneys agreed that once the cases were concluded, Mui would leave the firm.

At the time the Shores took over, they knew of the fee-splitting arrangement between Tran and Mui. They told Tran they would pay him $5,000 per month and directed him to begin paying the employees a salary and to begin paying payroll taxes for the employees. Tran did not do so, and continued to pay himself a percentage of the fees collected.

When the Shores had their accounts audited, they decided to complete the purchase of the law firm earlier than planned and to oust Tran.

At about the same time, Tran informed the Shores that he had formed a new company and that all the law firm's employees now worked for him. He refused to sell the original firm to the Shores, and brought in Robert Lee and another attorney to take over.

Fee-splitting hidden

Lee associated with the firm about six months after becoming a lawyer and was unaware of the fee-splitting arrangement. He ended his association with Tran after four months, when he realized the relationship was improper.

While Lee was still employed, however, the Shore brothers were locked out of the firm and a short time later received substitution letters indicating that Lee and another attorney had taken over their cases.

They then entered into an agreement with Mui under which he agreed to buy back the practice for $19,000. The Shores received only $6,000 and the remainder never was paid.

Mui intended that Tran, Lee or the other attorney actually would make the payments and that Lee or the other attorney would take over the firm. Tran also had invited Lee to take over the practice.

Eventually, Lee, Mui and another attorney took all the client files and returned some to the Shores, who completed the legal work. Lee also handled some of the cases.

Cooperation with bar

When the Shores learned of an insurance fraud investigation against the firm, they contacted the fraud bureau and provided information used to support a search warrant.

Tran eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor capping.

Lee also stipulated that he did not file an appeal in an SSI case, believing he was retained only to handle the initial hearing. At a minimum, however, he should have told his client he was withdrawing from the case.

In mitigation, neither Lee nor the Shores has a record of discipline, and they cooperated with the bar's investigation.