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Firm lawyer had clients on the side

A law firm associate who collected fees from clients on the side has agreed to a 90-day suspension with terms that include two years’ probation and three years of unannounced inspections of her accounts.

Danielle M.H. Lewis first worked as a paralegal at Thomas H. Roberts & Associates PC in Richmond, according to Virginia State Bar discipline records. After passing the bar in 2015, she joined the firm as an associate.

Roberts fired Lewis on April 8, an agreed disposition said. He then discovered that, during her employment, she had represented several clients on the side and diverted fees from the firm. Clients started calling the firm looking for Lewis, Roberts said Jan. 17. Roberts reported the matter to the VSB.

Lewis contended she pocketed $3,900 in fees from firm clients, the document said. Roberts said the figure was $6,617.

Lewis admitted she had no trust account of her own and did not deposit the outside fees into any trust account, the agreed statement said. Lewis agreed she misrepresented her activities on an insurance application and on client lists at the Roberts firm.

Lewis acknowledged violating ethics rules by committing a criminal or deliberately wrongful act and by dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. She also agreed she had violated rules governing the safekeeping of client money.

The terms of the 90-day suspension, effective Jan. 13, call for three years of “unannounced personal inspections” of Lewis’ books and records, two years of probation, six hours of ethics seminars and future certification of trust account compliance. The penalty for not meeting the terms is a three-year suspension, according to the agreement.

Roberts said his law firm was disappointed there was no provision for restitution.

Lewis represented herself in the discipline action. The VSB was represented by Bar Counsel Renu M. Brennan.

Updated Jan. 17 to include comments from Roberts.