Halmon L. Banks III, who had been a partner at the workers’ compensation firm formerly known as Martin Banks until his acrimonious departure last month, has opened Banks Law, his own three-lawyer firm.
The move comes about three months after Banks, while still a partner at Martin Banks, filed a suit claiming the other partners at the firm had taken steps to drive him out of the firm, including steering big cases away from him, firing his paralegal without his consent and limiting his access to the firm’s case management software.
At the same time, Banks had also filed a motion for special and preliminary injunction and expedited discovery seeking to enjoin the firm from changing its name to Martin LLC, but Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary S. Glazer denied the motion, finding in a footnote that Banks failed to show how the name change would cause him irreparable harm.
The firm sent out a press release that same day announcing it had officially changed its name to Martin LLC.
Banks officially left the firm effective May 31.
Banks said that, like his former firm, Banks Law will handle workers’ compensation matters, but noted that it will also include an expanded focus on Social Security, long-term and veterans’ disability benefits work.
According to Banks, the struggling economy has made Social Security disability a growing practice area.
More and more people have come to rely on those benefits because they tend to be more long-term than workers’ compensation benefits, Banks said.
Banks also noted that attorneys who handle Social Security disability matters, unlike purely workers’ compensation lawyers, are not limited to a statewide practice because those benefits are part of a federal program.
Banks is joined at the new firm by associates Mary LeMieux-Fillery and Jody Joy.
LeMieux-Fillery was formerly a senior attorney with SSC Disability Services and Joy was an associate at Martin LLC.
Banks said he doesn’t envision the firm growing much beyond 10 attorneys.
Banks said he wants the firm to remain small so that it can maintain a focus on client service.
"I got into this practice because it’s the kind of practice where you’re actually helping an injured or disabled person supplement their income," Banks said.
As for the status of Banks’ suit against his former firm, Glazer issued an order May 6 referring the matter to arbitration in accordance with the firm’s operating and partnership agreements.
Meanwhile, Banks filed a motion for special injunction June 3 asking the court to order Martin LLC to transfer the electronic files of all the clients who have agreed to follow Banks to his new firm.
The motion claims Martin LLC has "refused" to hand over the files despite "previously agreeing that an electronic transfer would take place."
But counsel for the defense, Alan B. Epstein of Spector Gadon & Rosen in Philadelphia, said the firm has provided Banks with hard copies of "every client file where clients have elected to be represented by him."
The complaint in Banks v. Martin, filed in March in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ Commerce Court program, alleged that Martin LLC partners George Martin, Matthew L. Wilson, Joseph C. Huttemann, Alfred J. Carlson and John P. Dogum had attempted to "freeze out" Banks after he raised concerns about the allocation of cases and income at the firm.
But the defense argued in an answer to Banks’ motion for special and preliminary injunction that Banks owes the firm about $374,000 in unpaid expense obligations.
Under the firm’s operating agreement, according to the complaint, Martin Banks assigned both firm files — cases that come to the firm through its general advertising — and files credited to Martin evenly among the partners.
Those files usually generated enough attorney fees to cover each partner’s pro rata share of the firm’s expenses, according to the complaint.
In late 2010 and early 2011, Banks noticed a "precipitous decline" in the number of firm and Martin files being assigned to him, leaving him with insufficient attorney fees to cover his share of the firm’s expenses, the complaint alleged.
But the defendants, in an answer, argued Banks had been assigned his fair share of cases.
The complaint alleged that when Banks confronted Martin in November 2011 about the allocation of cases, Martin denied that there was any discrepancy between the number of files being assigned to Banks and the number of files being assigned to the other partners.
The complaint alleged that, because of the decline in the number of firm and Martin files he was being assigned, Banks spent most of 2011 using a portion of the attorney fees he earned from his own credit cases to pay his share of the firm’s expenses.
In December 2011, according to the complaint, Banks stopped using the attorney fees from his own credit cases to supplement the payment of his share of the firm’s expenses, but continued to contribute all of his attorney fees from firm, Martin and Social Security files toward the firm’s expenses.
The complaint also alleged that the firm denied Banks access to the firm’s books for an audit and that, in December 2012, the partners held a meeting without Banks and voted that any partner who was not current with his expense obligations would not be assigned any more firm files.
In January, according to the complaint, the partners held another meeting without Banks and voted that any partner who was not current with his expense obligations would no longer be entitled to receive income from firm files he did not handle.
Previously, the complaint said, the attorney who handled the file received 60 percent of the fees and the remaining 40 percent was evenly split among the other partners.
But the defendants argued in their answer that those votes were the result of Banks owing the firm nearly $374,000 in unpaid expense obligations and that, despite being encouraged to discuss the issue at partner meetings throughout 2012, Banks either didn’t attend or left early from those meetings.
In late 2012 and early 2013, according to the defendants’ answer, Banks began informing his staff and others outside the firm that he intended to leave Martin Banks in the near future.
Banks, however, alleged in his complaint that, beginning in December 2012, the firm began limiting his access to its case management software, called the Needles Database and Provider Directory.
But the defendants said in their answer that Banks’ access to the firm’s case management database was not any more limited than that of any of the other partners at the firm.
Banks’ complaint alleged breach of contract, breach of the Pennsylvania Uniform Partnership Act and breach of fiduciary duty, as well as tortious interference with contract.