In real life as with former Crowell & Moring associate Douglas Arnsten and in fiction as with Will Gardner in "The Good Wife," it's all to easy for lawyers to lift money from client funds. Given the frequency of this happening, one might conclude that a JD is a license to steal. Why don't sophisticated law firms have in place a system of checks and balances to detect this kind of theft?
NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL reports that Arnsten had been sentenced from 4 to 12 years by Acting Supreme Court Justice Jill Konviser for lifting 10.7 million from two client accounts. He was tearful, as most high achievers would be facing spending the prime of their lives in prison. He is 34.
We can anticipate that we will be hearing of many more sentencings like this one. That's because too many lawyers, it appears, have developed the mindset of "borrowing" from client funds. Often they intend to replace the money but their spending sort of gets out of hand.
In 12-step programs lawyers recount how they knew colleagues with problems ranging from gambling to plain-vanilla greed. They took. When they were found out, sentenced, and then supposed to report to prison, they often committed suicide. Do lawyers need to be protected against their worst instincts?