Every few months, an elite firm partner is caught in a billing or expense fraud. Predictably, the rogue’s partners dismiss him as “just one rotten apple.” Then the issue of overbilling is ignored until the next scoundrel comes along.

A new study in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, “Blue-Chip Bilking,” takes a longer view and tallies the rotten apples. Lisa Lerman, of Catholic University of America School of Law, counts exactly 16 elite firm partners during the past 10 years who allegedly stole at least $100,000 in a billing or expense scam. Seven were managing partners. “I wanted to make a point about rot at the top,” Professor Lerman says.