The Massachusetts Clients' Security Board -- established nearly
40 years ago to compensate clients for damages resulting from
unethical legal practice -- issued its annual report last month. A
total of $2.1 million was awarded to 86 claimants in fiscal year
2012 (Sept. 1, 2011 to Aug. 31, 2012). Half of the FY12 awards were
issued due to three attorneys, two of whom have been disbarred and
one of whom is deceased.
The board has seen for many years a similarly low percentage of
lawyers being responsible for all of the awards made. "This
reinforces that the majority of lawyers are trying to do the right
thing for their clients in a highly ethical manner," said CSB Chair
John J. Egan.
Only 43 out of the state's 56,279 attorneys are responsible for
the thefts that resulted in the $2.1 million worth of awards. Those
practitioners represent .1 percent of all lawyers in the
commonwealth. Awards in FY12 ranged in value from $381.92 to
$305,056.67 and trust and estate clients received the largest share
of the CSB's payouts -- $1 million. In FY11, 63 claimants received
awards totaling roughly $60,000 less than the FY12 awards.
The CSB was established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1974
for the purpose of full restitution to clients whose in-state
attorneys misappropriated their money or property.
"Public confidence in our profession rests on a stool. The
Clients' Security Board represents the third leg of that stool,
alongside the Bar Counsel and the Board of Bar Overseers," said
former MBA Business Law Chair Francis C. Morrissey, who has served
on the CSB since 2010.
The CSB is funded through a portion of Massachusetts attorneys'
annual licensing fee. Board members serving five-year terms and
those attorneys who represent claimants in front of the board may
not be compensated for their counsel, per court rule.
According to Egan, board members realize that they represent the
client's first interaction with the bar following a horrible
experience with an unethical practitioner. Egan writes in his
opening letter in the CSB FY12 Annual Report, "We continue to find,
in addition to addressing a client's monetary loss, an expression
of apology to the client for his or her experience is very
important. We are the first representatives of the organized bar
they encounter. Clients are also very impressed by the fact that
any awards come only from funds paid by members of the bar, and no
public funds are involved."
"These points often get lost in the economics, but I find they
resonate with the claimants and I hope begin to reinforce to them
that they experienced an aberration not reflective of all the
decent able members of the bar," said Egan, who is currently
fulfilling his last in a five-year appointment on the CSB.
Fellow board members of Egan and Morrissey include Michelle M.
Porter (vice chair); Denzil D. McKenzie (treasurer); Edward S.
Cheng (secretary); D. Ethan Jeffery; and Joseph H. Baldiga.