What happens when an unethical lawyer steals client’s funds or fails to inform them of money that has arrived in settlement of their claims ? Is there nothing an innocent victim can do to recoup their losses if the lawyer had not insurance or is bankrupt ? Luckily in Virginia, those who are members in good standing contribute to the Clients Protection Fund. Also, good lawyers have professional coverage to protect their clients in case a human error is made, so that there is an additional layer of protection.
According to the Virginia State Bar, Woodbridge lawyer Stephen Thomas Conrad settled personal injury claims and failed to inform the clients that their car accident cases had settled. Furthermore, he stole all or a portion of the proceeds. Conrad’s law license was revoked and he is serving a federal prison sentence. The Conrad case was one of the biggest in the Client Protection Fund’s history. Conrad’s clients filed almost $3.7 million in claims. The Fund’s maximum aggregate payout was capped at $411,165, which was divided among 140 petitioners. But big-money fraudulent operations such Conrad’s are rare. Most claims on the Clients’ Protection Fund are within the fund’s capacity to cover.
“The Clients’ Protection Fund is a very effective public protection tool after clients have suffered losses in the rare instances of lawyer dishonesty,” said Karen A. Gould, executive director of the Virginia State Bar. “Virginia lawyers should be commended for this tangible investment in the good name of their profession.” The fund had by far its biggest year in fiscal 2010, when it paid 218 claims that totaled $900,560 — many of them related to Conrad. Those claims in 2010 were against only seventeen attorneys — a miniscule portion of the twenty-nine thousand lawyers in active practice in Virginia. “The fund is a low-risk, high-yield investment in the legal profession,” Gould said. Herndon car crash and workers comp lawyer Doug Landau, who never saw Mr. Conrad in court in over 25 years of practice in Northern Virginia, recommends that you make sure that the lawyer representing you in your personal injury and workers compensation case:
- 1. Is a member of the bar in good standing;
- 2. Has professional liability insurance; and
- 3. Actually goes to court to try the kind of case you have.
If the lawyer fails in ANY ONE of these three minimum requirements, get another lawyer.