California Client Security Fund
If a California lawyer has cheated you or acted dishonestly, you may be able to get some of your money back.
California in 1972 established a Client Security Fund. In a typical year it pays victims of dishonest California lawyers between $2 million and $ 4 million.
There are important restrictions. You have to show that you were cheated, not just that you were dissatisfied with your lawyer's performance or that the lawyer committed malpractice. It generally has to involve something like actual theft or taking your fees and then doing essentially no work. The money that you are trying to recover must have been received by the lawyer. In addition, you have to file a disciplinary complaint with the State Bar of California before you are eligible for any compensation. if the lawyer is disciplined and also found to have been dishonest, you then may be eligible to receive some money. Awards are limited to $50,000. The California Client Security Fund is in some sense a payor of last resort. Generally speaking the State Bar seeks reimbursement as part of the disciplinary process. The Fund is designed to help victims of attorney fraud and dishonesty where the lawyer lacks the resources to pay back the people he or she has harmed.
The California Client Security Fund, which in other states is sometimes referred to a Client Recovery Fund, is hardly a panacea. It takes approximately a year for eligible people to receive any funds. It is, however, better than nothing. In a typical year about 700-800 people receive some kind of payment from the Fund. In a state with more than 150,000 lawyers, that is a very low number. I suspect that few people know about the Fund. You can find out more information about the California Client Security Fund, including downloading an application for payment, by clicking here.
If you are wondering where the money in the Client Security Fund, comes from, it's not from taxes. California lawyers contribute to the Fund as part of their professional dues. It's one of the things that lawyers do that makes them professionals rather than just business owners. Please keep the Client Security Fund in mind the next time you hear someone bad mouth all lawyers.