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Model Rules for Lawyers' Funds for Client Protection - Rule 10


A. The loss must be caused by the dishonest conduct of the lawyer and shall have arisen out of and by reason of a client-lawyer relationship or a fiduciary relationship between the lawyer and the claimant.

B. The claim shall have been filed no later than five years after the claimant knew or should have known of the dishonest conduct of the lawyer.

C. As used in these Rules, "dishonest conduct" means wrongful acts committed by a lawyer in the nature of theft or embezzlement of money or the wrongful taking or conversion of money, property or other things of value, including but not limited to:
(1) Failure to refund unearned fees received in advance as required by [Rule 1.16 of the ABA Model Rules for Professional Conduct]; and
(2) The borrowing of money from a client without intention to repay it, or with disregard of the lawyer's inability or reasonably anticipated inability to repay it.

D. Except as provided by Paragraph E of this Rule, the following losses shall not be reimbursable:
(1) Losses incurred by spouses, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, associates and employees of lawyer(s) causing the losses;
(2) Losses covered by a bond, surety agreement, or insurance contract to the extent covered thereby, including any loss to which any bonding agent, surety or insurer is subrogated, to the extent of that subrogated interest;
(3) Losses incurred by any financial institution that are recoverable under a "banker's blanket bond" or similar commonly available insurance or surety contract;
(4) Losses incurred by any business entity controlled by the lawyer(s), any person or entity described in Subparagraph D (1), (2) or (3) of this Rule;
(5) Losses incurred by any governmental entity or agency;
(6) Losses arising from business or personal investments not arising in the course of the client-lawyer relationship; and
(7) Consequential or incidental damages, such as lost interest, or lawyer's fees or other costs incurred in seeking recovery of a loss.

E. In determining whether it would be more appropriate for this Fund or another Fund to pay a claim, the Board should consider the following factors:
(1) the Fund(s) into which the lawyer is required to pay an annual assessment or into which an appropriation is made on behalf of the lawyer by the bar association;
(2) the domicile of the lawyer;
(3) the domicile of the client;
(4) the residence(s) of the lawyer;
(5) the number of years the lawyer has been licensed in each jurisdiction;
(6) the location of the lawyer's principal office and other offices;
(7) the location where the attorney-client relationship arose;
(8) the primary location where the legal services were rendered;
(9) whether at the time the legal services were rendered, the lawyer was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law as defined by the jurisdiction in which the legal services were rendered; and
(10) any other significant contacts.

F. The Board may enter into an agreement with the Fund of another jurisdiction to reimburse a portion of the loss suffered by a claimant whose claim may be eligible for payment under both Funds. The Board may take into consideration the other Fund's rules on payment of claims for reimbursement prior to entering into such an agreement.

G. In cases of extreme hardship or special and unusual circumstances, the Board may, in its discretion and consistent with the purpose of the Fund, recognize a claim that would otherwise be excluded under these Rules.

H. In cases where it appears that there will be unjust enrichment, or the claimant unreasonably or knowingly contributed to the loss, the Board may, in its discretion, deny the claim.


[1] Set forth in Paragraph A is the basic criteria for compensability of losses. An eligible claim must include: (1) a demonstrable loss; (2) caused by the dishonest conduct of a lawyer; and (3) within or arising out of a client-lawyer or fiduciary relationship.

[2] Fiduciary relationships are included because lawyers traditionally serve in that capacity as executors, conservators and guardians ad litem. Rejection of claims based upon technical distinctions between this sort of service and a client-lawyer relationship would not serve the purpose or mission of the Fund.

[3] Paragraph C adds to the Rules a definition of "dishonest conduct." The basic concept is one of conversion or embezzlement. Subparagraphs (1) and (2) make clear that if the essential nature of the transaction was conversion, dishonest conduct will be found even where the lawyer took money in the guise of a fee, a loan or an investment. Indeed, employing such a ruse is part of the dishonesty. Subparagraph (1) sets forth a standard for the handling of difficult unearned fee claims in accordance with Rule 1.16 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It is not intended to encompass bona fide fee disputes. Where money received by a lawyer was clearly neither earned nor returned, however, the client feels violated, hardship can result, and the Board may find dishonest conduct. Subparagraph (2) anticipates overreaching by a lawyer, in the context of a loan to the lawyer by the client, to such an egregious extent as to be tantamount to theft. Similarly, use by the lawyer of a purported "investment" to induce a client to turn over money should not preclude a finding of dishonest conduct where the "investment" is worthless, non existent and so forth.

[4] Paragraph C must be read in light of Paragraph A. In focusing on dishonest conduct, it must be kept in mind that such conduct must occur within or as a result of a client-lawyer or fiduciary relationship in order to be compensable.

[5] A five-year limitation on the filing of claims from the date the claimant knew or should have known of the dishonest conduct is contained in Paragraph B. Under Paragraph E, the Board should provide liberal leeway for extension, however, especially in light of the extent to which the Fund publicizes itself. It is not knowledge of the dishonest conduct but the lack of knowledge of the existence or purpose of the Fund that is the problem for many prospective claimants.

[6] Paragraph D describes claims that are not reimbursable. Subparagraphs (1), (4), and (5) declare certain classes of potential claimants to be ineligible for policy reasons. Subparagraphs (2) and (3) imply that recourse should be sought from certain third parties such as title insurance companies and banks cashing checks over forged endorsements prior to seeking it from the Fund. Such third parties lack the client-lawyer relationship necessary to prosecute a claim in their own right. Should such third parties fail or refuse to pay, the Fund should promptly pay the claim, take an assignment from the claimant, and pursue the third parties in its own right.

[7] Subparagraph D (6) addresses the most difficult of Fund claims. Claims in which lawyers steal from their clients in the guise of "investments" should be paid, but transactions having nothing to do with the lawyer's license to practice are not compensable. Claims with facts somewhere between the two extremes often arise, and the issue is whether there is "enough of" a client-lawyer relationship. Funds have found a "but for" test helpful: "But for the lawyer enjoying a client-lawyer relationship with the claimant, such loss could not have occurred." Factors considered in applying this test include (1) disparity in sophistication and bargaining power between lawyer and claimant; (2) extent to which client-lawyer relationship overcame the normal prudence of claimant; (3) extent to which lawyer became privy to claimant's financial information as claimant's lawyer; (4) whether the transaction originated with lawyer; (5) reputation of lawyer as to law practice or business involvements; (6) amount charged by lawyer for legal services as opposed to finder's fees; and (7) number, nature, and timing of prior transactions between claimant and lawyer.

[8] Paragraph E sets forth factors to be considered by the Board when deciding whether this Fund, another jurisdiction's Fund, or both Funds should pay a claim where more than one Fund has jurisdiction over a lawyer. This situation might arise where a lawyer is licensed in two or more jurisdictions; a lawyer is licensed in only one jurisdiction and has engaged in the authorized multijurisdictional practice of law in another jurisdiction; or a lawyer is licensed in only one jurisdiction and has engaged in the unlicensed practice of law in another jurisdiction.

[9] Paragraph F recognizes that there may be situations where it is appropriate for the Board to enter into an agreement with the Fund of another jurisdiction to reimburse a portion of the loss suffered by a claimant whose claim may be eligible for payment under both Funds. However, since Funds have different maximum dollar amounts of reimbursement for individual losses, the Fund with a higher maximum amount should not be required in every case to contribute more than the other Fund, or to contribute the maximum amount. Such a requirement could result in an undue burden on the Fund. The Board may take into consideration the other Fund's rules and its own rules on payment of claims for reimbursement, as well as the factors in Paragraph (E), prior to entering into such an agreement.

[10] Paragraphs G and H reiterate the critical importance of vesting in the Board the discretion to do justice in each claim considered, without needlessly following technical rules. These paragraphs recognize that it is impossible to predict every factual circumstance that will be presented to the Board.


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