“Hundreds of New Hampshire attorneys annually oversee hundreds of millions of dollars in client trust accounts. Without commenting on the guilt or innocence of anyone, we want it to be understood that the legal profession finds even one incident and one dollar of mishandled client funds to be intolerable.
“Incidents arising from misuse of client funds are dealt with severely by the Professional Conduct Committee (which oversees the discipline of New Hampshire attorneys) and the Supreme Court. I know of no such case where disbarment was not ordered.
“Our profession takes responsibility to provide a measure of compensation for people who suffer losses as a result of a rare case of attorney theft – the only profession in New Hampshire that has such a mechanism. The Public Protection Fund, created by a Supreme Court Rule and administered by the New Hampshire Bar Association, provides a fund of last resort (after a definitive finding of guilt including disbarment of the lawyer and after other sources of restitution are exhausted). The Public Protection Fund, funded by annual contributions by all members of the Bar, currently has a balance of slightly more than $1.8 million, with only a few claims made and small amounts paid in the fund’s seven-year existence. (Find information on the Public Protection Fund
). The legal profession in New Hampshire’s responsibility for helping to provide compensation for clients’ losses due to attorney mishandling of client funds actually dates back 1968 when a Clients’ Indemnity Fund was first established.)
“In the area of prevention, the legal profession and the courts in New Hampshire seek early detection of problems through annual reporting on client trust accounts (accounts established to hold funds on behalf of a client) by every attorney, along with auditing of client trust accounts (both for cause and at random) by the Attorney Discipline Office of the NH Supreme Court. In addition, the Bar Association conducts regular educational programming on client trust accounting and other law practice management issues. Each year, the Association also holds a Statewide Professionalism Day to bring attorneys together to discuss how to maintain the highest standards of professionalism.
“An attorney’s reputation is his or her most valuable asset and the ability of clients to trust and rely on their attorneys is essential. The innocence or guilt of the attorney named in the recent news reports has not been decided. It is my hope that my comments provide a better understanding of the strong interest the profession has in preventing such incidents from occurring and the mechanisms in place to provide some remedy for those losses.”