Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security
By Stefanie Salavantis, Luzerne County District Attorney and Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security and Kevin R. Steele, Montgomery County District Attorney
All lawyers take an oath, and the vast majority of lawyers uphold that oath. Unfortunately, there are a few lawyers who misappropriate or outright steal client funds and property. To preserve the integrity and protect the good name of the legal profession, we are working with the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security (PA Law Fund). The fund reimburses victims of attorney dishonesty and promotes public confidence in the legal system.
This year, Montgomery County charged an attorney who stole nearly $161,000 from 17 clients who trusted him. More abhorrently, these were families of special needs children. The now-disbarred attorney used the misappropriated money — some of it earmarked for specials needs care — to pay his own personal bills such as his home mortgage, gas for his car, restaurant meals, movie tickets, sporting goods, personal utility bills and cell phone service. This attorney took advantage of these people, his clients. His actions were not only illegal but also disturbing on a basic, human level.
This activity is criminal, and thankfully, it is also rare. But when it does happen, it is paramount for the legal community to come together to defend the high standards of our profession and create an additional remedy for victims in these situations, such as the PA Law Fund. The 17 victims in the Montgomery County case are in various stages of applying to the fund for reimbursement of their misappropriated money.
The fund has helped 4,741 victims to receive awards totaling $68 million since the fund’s inception in 1982. Victims submit a complaint form with supporting documentation, which are reviewed by the fund’s board, and the board then decides whether to approve the award. There is a maximum claim of $100,000 per claimant, and there is no fee to file a claim.
The fund receives all of its financial resources from the annual licensing fees lawyers pay to the Pennsylvania Bar to be licensed to practice in the state. The seven volunteer board members of the PA Law Fund consist of five lawyer members and two non-lawyer members appointed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and listed on the fund’s website.
For our part and on behalf of the fund, we are committed to holding all lawyers to the highest standards of our profession and protecting clients from fraudulent lawyers. If you have suffered the loss of money or property due to the misappropriation of funds by your attorney, please contact the PA Law Fund.