Here's Why You Never Falsify Records (as a Law Student or a Lawyer)

By: Steve Grumm

I’m typically reticent to single out individuals’ professional bad acts as object lessons.  Even good people sometimes do bad things.  But in this case the individual is a very public figure and the bad act offers such a valuable lesson for law students and junior attorneys about personal integrity and accurate record-keeping. 

There is a all kinds of news coverage about the fact that the erstwhile Republican leader in the New Hampshire house, who also just graduated from the U. of New Hampshire School of Law, resigned his office and admitted that he falsified his reporting of final-semester internship.  From the Boston Globe

Representative D.J. Bettencourt announced Sunday he was resigning from the Legislature immediately while admitting he had misrepresented legal work he performed for another legislator while attending the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

Matters came to a head over the weekend after Representative Brandon Giuda, Republican of Chichester, called on the 28-year-old Bettencourt to resign, accusing him of fabricating law school records indicating he completed a semesterlong legal internship at Giuda’s office despite working there for only one hour.

Giuda said Monday he agreed last winter to let Bettencourt work for him in his one-person home office for a legal internship to meet his requirement to graduate from law school. Bettencourt agreed to work every Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the semester but ended up working only one hour in total, Giuda said.

Giuda said that after he saw that Bettencourt had participated in the law school’s May 19 commencement in cap and gown, he obtained the internship records and learned that Bettencourt had submitted to the university 11 weeks of reports — with details such as court hearings, meetings, and talks with clients that had never happened — giving him the credits he needed to graduate.

‘‘When I saw those, I got a pit in my stomach,’’ Giuda said. ‘‘This wasn’t just cheating. This was premeditated at the same time he’s standing at the podium castigating other people on ethics.’’

[More coverage from the Nashua Telegraph.]

This appears to be an egregious act: simply making up an internship experience on paper that never existed in real life.  The more dangerous kinds of temptations for legal professionals come in trying to keep up with record-keeping requirements.  If there is a lawyer alive who has not, at some point in their careers, struggled to keep up with time records, I’ve not met him.  But, accurate record-keeping and reporting – whether it’s hours worked, time billed, CLE hours, etc. – are central to law students’ and lawyers’ professional obligations.  This is why, lawyer jokes notwithstanding, dishonesty and theft offenses can not just tarnish a professional record, but can end careers.

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