When you are injured you want to find a lawyer that is going to fight hard for you. You also want your lawyer to be honest with you and honest about every aspect of your attorney client relationship.
Lawyers are often depicted in movies and on television as sleazy ambulance chasers who lie, cheat and steal for their own greed or selfishness. Television is fiction. Most Lawyers on the North Shore, including Lynnfield, Reading, Wakefield, Saugus and Lynn are honest. In fact Lawyers in Massachusetts are held to a higher standard of ethics than almost any other profession. Of course there are bad apples in the barrel but the Massachusetts Bar takes ethics and honesty seriously.
In 1974 two independent administrative bodies were created to investigate and evaluate complaints against Lawyers: The Massachusetts Bar of Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel. During 2014 in Massachusetts there have been approximately 89 cases of reported Attorney discipline in Massachusetts. Many dealt with misappropriation (theft) of client funds.
Lawyers are never allowed to use client funds for business or personal needs. Lawyers who hold money for a client must put the money into an interest-bearing account for the client – an IOLTA Trust Account. There are strict guidelines for how funds in an IOLTA account are to be handled and distributed. Money in the IOLTA may never be used by the Lawyer for his personal use. A Lawyer who violates this rule may be sanctioned, disbarred and/or criminally punished.
For an example where a Lawyer handled an injury case and took the client’s money we can look at Commonwealth v. Edward Pepyne. Here an elderly couple was in a serious automobile accident. They hired a Lawyer that they had known for some time, but who wasn’t necessarily emphasizing a personal injury practice. His services were to be paid for on a contingency basis. The Lawyer would earn one third of the amount he recovered for his clients. The Lawyer successfully settled the case before filing a lawsuit and deposited the settlement funds into his business account, not his IOLTA Account. The Lawyer then lied to his clients and told them he had to keep more than the agreed one-third fee because of their “outstanding medical expenses”. But there were no outstanding medical expenses. The clients complained to the Bar of Overseers and in 2010 the Attorney was disbarred from practicing law in Massachusetts, for intentionally misusing a portion of settlement funds belonging to the client, by making payments to or on behalf of other clients and for his own personal bills unrelated to the elderly clients. Further, he was prosecuted and convicted of stealing more than $186,000.00 overall from the elderly clients and sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison.
In another Massachusetts case with similar a fact pattern, a personal injury Attorney was hired to represent a client for an automobile accident where her car was damaged and she was hurt requiring extensive physical therapy. In this case the Attorney settled his client’s case and never informed her. After allegedly forging a release signed by the client and receiving the settlement check, the Lawyer then also allegedly forged the client’s signature to deposit the settlement check, and deposited the money into his own account. After some time, the client learned that the insurance company had settled the case and she had to hire a new Lawyer to figure out what happened. She then filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Bar of Overseers, who uncovered the forgery, tracked down the missing money and the Lawyer was disbarred for his dishonesty.
A client puts a great deal of trust in their Attorney. For the best results, try to select a Lawyer with experience, knowledge, and tenacity; but also a Lawyer with the highest ethical standards and honesty. Perhaps check for this through the Board of Bar Overseers website for complaints or reprimands to help make sure your Lawyer is honest.