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Attorney E-Newsletter

May 2009

Disciplinary Board Offers Online Address Update

The Disciplinary Board is pleased to offer a new service at its Web site, www.padb.us: online address updates. A news release announcing the procedure is here.

From the Attorneys Information page on the Web site, choose the ONLINE ADDRESS CHANGE FORM link located at the bottom of the “FORMS” column. You will be asked to log in with your Attorney ID number and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Upon submitting this information, you will see a confirmation with your name, and a link stating “Click here to go to the address change screen.” This will open up a screen in which you may change your office or residence address, telephone, email, and other information. When finished, click the “submit” button, and the information will be sent to the Registration Department for updating.

One of the first users of the system commented, “I just processed an on-line address change and it was a very user-friendly process.”

Lawyers still have the option of submitting address changes by mail or by fax, but the online procedure is the quickest and most efficient way to do so.

Rule 219(d)(3) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement requires lawyers to notify the registration office of any changes in information required on the annual registration form within 30 days of such changes. The new online address change procedure is designed to make compliance with that duty easier.

Changes in Lawyer Registration – Frequently Asked Questions

Our report last month on changes in the attorney registration process and fees, particularly for inactive lawyers (press release here), generated a lot of comments. Most of them were not about our witty and sparkling reportage.[1]

A common question is, “What do I have to do to pay the new fee?” Annual registration statements for 2009-2010 were mailed out this month. They will contain information on the new charge for lawyers who elect to assume or continue inactive status. Most active or inactive lawyers will simply need to follow the instructions, complete the registration form, and submit the fee consistent with the status they choose. Registration forms will be due July 1, 2009.

A number of correspondents have inquired as to whether exemptions from portions of the fees are available for lawyers who do not handle funds; who are in government service or academic settings; or who no longer practice actively. The Supreme Court has determined what fees will be charged for each available status, and has not chosen to make further distinctions within those classes. It is true that portions of the fee charged to lawyers who do not handle funds support Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security and the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts Board. The Court has determined that these are projects which deserve the support of all members of the profession, regardless of whether the nature of their practice involves the handling of client funds or not. The work of these projects is dedicated to improvement of the responsiveness of the profession and the system of justice as a whole, and these are goals which the Court has determined that all who undertake the privilege of practicing law should commit to as well.

Justice Cappy Passes

On May 3, 2009, Ralph Cappy, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, passed away unexpectedly at his Pittsburgh home. “Chief Justice Cappy’s achievements in upgrading the Court system are well documented. During his tenure as Chief and under his guidance, the entire disciplinary system was improved. He was an outstanding Justice and a dear friend who will be missed by all,” stated Paul J. Killion, Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

An obituary is here.

Scams on Lawyers Grow in Numbers, Sophistication

We have reported before on scams, many originating overseas, targeted to lawyers. We continue to receive reports of such efforts, and they appear to be increasingly sophisticated and well-planned.

A colleague reports receiving a convincing looking email advising that she had been recommended on the basis of her excellent reputation for some urgent collection work.[2] Unlike past efforts, more recent email solicitations are written in perfect, business-like English, and often bear identifying information of businesses that check out as legitimate in common searches.

In one variation of the scam, the lawyer is not asked to accept a check from the “client” as in past scams. Rather, the lawyer is promised a percentage fee on any collections obtained. The lawyer contacts the “debtor” business, which also checks out as legitimate, and the “debtor” delivers a check to the lawyer in purported payment of the claim. The lawyer is expected to deposit the check, deduct his or her fee, and wire transfer the balance to the “client.” It turns out that the “debtor” is in fact an entity created and controlled by the “client,” and the check tendered in payment is invalid. The scammers know how to delay confirmation of the validity of the check long enough to get the wire transfer, at which point there is little that banks or law enforcement can do.

This California Bar article discusses some schemes that were discovered, and some that nearly or actually took lawyers in. Such incidents stress the need to approach any solicitations by email with extreme caution, if at all – no matter how brilliant they have been told you are.

Dumpster Discipline

We usually have at least one trashy story in each edition, and this one is no exception.

An Ohio lawyer has been reprimanded for attempting to dispose of client files by leaving them in and next to a dumpster. The Supreme Court found that attorney David Shaver[3] had been storing various materials, including client files, in a garage. When the owner of the garage requested that he vacate, he removed some client files, but left others in or near a dumpster next to the garage. The subsequent tenant, who had been a paralegal, realized there was a problem and moved them back into the garage, but Shaver refused to retrieve them, and the owner, chaffing at this rejection, had the files and other property hauled away. Some of them fell into the hands of a television reporter who was tipped off and got involved in the scrap[4]. The Supreme Court found that Shaver had violated Rule 1.6 and 1.9(c)(2) regarding duties of confidentiality to former clients, and disposed of the case with a public reprimand.[5]

We may make light of this story, but disposal of old files containing confidential client information is a difficult problem, especially for old files for clients with whom contact has been lost. Formal Opinion 2007-100 by the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which provides a great deal of guidance on the handling of client files, states, “File disposition or destruction should be conducted so as to protect client confidentiality, and that an index should be maintained, perhaps permanently, regarding all files destroyed or returned to clients.”

Got a Tip?

Or a question, a comment, an idea you’d like to see addressed? We are always glad to hear from you. Write us at comments@padisciplinaryboard.org.

[1] We hope things will soon be back to normal.

[2] Flattery will get you – into the door, at least.

[3] Who apparently lives at the razor’s edge.

[4] Lending a whole new meaning to “trash TV.”

[5] Because the reprimand was public, the report was not “sanitized.”