Thursday, May 04, 2006

If It's Not Writers, It's Lawyers

Maybe it’s lawyers I should fume about instead. Another story in the Globe reveals that a small number of lawyers steal an astounding amount of money from their clients. (You have to register with to read the linked article.)

In fact, to quote the Globe online: "Every state has a fund that reimburses people victimized by lawyers, and for each of the past five years approximately $25 million stolen by attorneys nationwide has been reimbursed, according to the American Bar Association...."

Is that cool or what? Theft by lawyers is recognized as a big enough problem that every state maintains a fund to reimburse people who have been ripped off by their attorneys. Oh yeah.

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At 6:42 AM, Blogger substandardTim said...

it doesn't make sense that tax payers have to foot the bill. why aren't the lawyers required to reimburse those they steal from?

several months ago we had a discussion about google's book project and Ive recently experienced both the good and bad sides of it. I wanted information on a very specific topic that is written about in a lot of books but there aren't any books written specifically about this subject, if that makes sense. So rather than buy expensive books (and these were expensive), I book-googled it and came up with all the info i needed on the subject from various books. Now that caused some writers to not make any money off of me. But here's the flip side, in Googling it I also brought up excerpts from a book I already have that talks about the subject and it was really nice to be able search a book and find the info I needed right away. And because of that, I was able to pinpoint what i wanted in something I already own.

I can see the great value in being able to search texts that you already have but need to quickly find something.

At 3:01 AM, Blogger Jeffrey A. Carver said...

Probably by the time they catch the miscreant lawyers, the crooks have already spent the money they stole (or hidden it in Swiss accounts).

Re Google and searchable books online, I think most people agree the basic idea is a good one. The question is, should Google be able to do this without contracts or compensation--since they will almost certainly be making a profit from ads they run alongside the good stuff. The fact that Yahoo is working on a similar thing, and they *are* getting permission from publishers first, suggests that it is not an undue burden on the search engine.

There are European countries that routinely make cash payments for (aggregate) photocopying and library usage of materials. They send the money to writers' organizations. (SFWA in the U.S. has received such payments.)

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Tim and Greg's Dad said...

Taxpayers do not foot the bill, lawyers do. The money is paid by the Client's Security Board of the Supreme Judicial Court from amounts collected from the annual registration fee for attorneys. (I forget what percentage of the registration fee goes into this fund.)

The lawyers who steal from their clients are disbarred. They are prosecuted criminally, and civil lawsuits are brought to recover the funds. As Jeff said, by the time the miscreants are caught, the money is pretty much gone. Most of the time, the stealing occurs to cover past debts of the attorney.

Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples in the barrel. Policing is difficult, but the Board of Bar Overseers does an excellent job in Massachusetts.

I wish I had the figures handy for the number of lawyers in Massachusetts, the number disciplined (private admonition, public reprimand, suspension, disbarment) each year, and the number disciplined for stealing client funds. I expect the percentage is surprisingly low.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Jeffrey A. Carver said...

Hi Chris! Thanks for stepping in to represent the attorney's point of view. Regarding the payment, I suppose you would have to say that it's ultimately paid by everyone who ever uses a lawyer's services, since lawyers must figure it in as a cost of doing business, which has to be figured into the fees they charge. So, like everything else (like Big Dig contractors stealing from the taxpayers), the cost of thievery is shared by all of us.

Actually, though I groused about it in the original post, we should probably all be glad that such reimbursement funds exist, since in most other lines of business they don't.


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