Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ohio Should Pass A "Payee Notification" Law To Protect Consumers From Fraudulent And Unethical Attorneys

My most recent post discussed the rampant health care fraud that has gone on for years in the medical profession. Well, we in the legal profession have our own warts, and it's only fair to bring our own shortcomings to the light of day as well. Since 1985, Ohio has had in place a state agency known as "The Client's Security Fund." This organization is devoted to securing restitution for clients ripped off by unscrupulous attorneys. According to its 2009 Annual Report:

Since its inception in 1985, the fund has awarded more than $14 million to 1,795 former law clients (see Appendix C). All fund losses are attributable to less than 1 percent of Ohio’s more than 56,320 licensed attorneys, 42,164 of whom are engaged in the active practice of law. This report confirms that the verwhelming majority of Ohio lawyers observe high standards of integrity when entrusted with law client money or property. However, the dishonest acts of a few can affect the public’s image of and confidence in the legal profession as a whole. The Clients’ Security Fund seeks to restore public confidence in the legal profession by reimbursing law clients for losses sustained as a result of the dishonest conduct of their attorneys.

Some states have passed "payee notification" laws that notify clients by letter that their case has settled and that the settlement check has been mailed to their attorney. The purpose is obvious: to prevent an unethical attorney from forging the client's signature and absconding with the money.

Ohio should pass a similar law. Some of my colleagues do not agree with this law and consider it as offensive and an intrusion on their attorney-client relationship.

I couldn't disagree more. We as a profession should encourage any law that protects innocent clients from being ripped off by attorneys who have no business practicing law.

Until such a law is passed, the lesson here is: there are lots of attorneys that make all sorts of claims in advertisements. Some even solicit you after an accident. And some are shysters. So do your homework and carefully research the attorney or firm you're looking to hire. Ask for plenty of word of mouth references, and look to see who's providing you with EVIDENCE of their competence, beyond all the "puffery."

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