Today, a friend who is a collection lawyer in New Jersey, told me a story about a woman who he represented for free. The woman was previously represented by a New York lawyer in the Bronx who stole her entire $25,000 settlement. The client, on her own, obtained a default judgment against the lawyer but was unable to collect any money. My friend successfully obtained reimbursment for her from the New York State attorney-client fund.
My friend said that he found out that the lawyer in the Bronx had been disbarred because he stole money from many other clients, but was never prosecuted. He said it’s like Lays potato chips, once you have one, you can’t have just one. He said that New Jersey prosecutes lawyers when they steal money from clients, but that New York does not.
Since around 1961, “betcha can’t eat just one” has become one of the most well known slogans. Sometimes remembered a little differently and often used to describe something else, people always remember the Lays name! Similarly, a few bad lawyers who are simply disbarred and not criminally prosecuted and sentenced to jail in the hope they are forgotten, will leave a bad impression on the whole profession. Prosecuting lawyers and the publicity surrounding the prosecutions will show lawyers and the public that stealing will not be tolerated and that we will not be treated differently than anyone else. Bad publicity can be use in a positive manner, hiding the problems under the rug will only cause everyone to trip on it.
I have had bad times when I couldn’t pay bills, but I never touched one penny of my client’s money. To me, it’s unthinkable, Those that do give me and everyone else a bad name. I have no sympathy for those that do. Anyone only needs to read the Bar Association newspaper to see how many lawyers are disbarred for escrow violations. I’m always amazed.
Instead of “nit picking” lawyer advertising, serious efforts should be spent on going after the most serious problems affecting our profession. Besides “borrowing” escrow money, there are other serious problems such as runners that do not get anywhere near the attention they need.