CSB awards $2.1 million worth of claims in FY12

Issue December 2012 By Tricia M. Oliver

The Massachusetts Clients' Security Board -- established nearly 40 years ago to compensate clients for damages resulting from unethical legal practice -- issued its annual report last month. A total of $2.1 million was awarded to 86 claimants in fiscal year 2012 (Sept. 1, 2011 to Aug. 31, 2012). Half of the FY12 awards were issued due to three attorneys, two of whom have been disbarred and one of whom is deceased.

The board has seen for many years a similarly low percentage of lawyers being responsible for all of the awards made. "This reinforces that the majority of lawyers are trying to do the right thing for their clients in a highly ethical manner," said CSB Chair John J. Egan.

Only 43 out of the state's 56,279 attorneys are responsible for the thefts that resulted in the $2.1 million worth of awards. Those practitioners represent .1 percent of all lawyers in the commonwealth. Awards in FY12 ranged in value from $381.92 to $305,056.67 and trust and estate clients received the largest share of the CSB's payouts -- $1 million. In FY11, 63 claimants received awards totaling roughly $60,000 less than the FY12 awards.

The CSB was established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1974 for the purpose of full restitution to clients whose in-state attorneys misappropriated their money or property.

"Public confidence in our profession rests on a stool. The Clients' Security Board represents the third leg of that stool, alongside the Bar Counsel and the Board of Bar Overseers," said former MBA Business Law Chair Francis C. Morrissey, who has served on the CSB since 2010.

The CSB is funded through a portion of Massachusetts attorneys' annual licensing fee. Board members serving five-year terms and those attorneys who represent claimants in front of the board may not be compensated for their counsel, per court rule.

According to Egan, board members realize that they represent the client's first interaction with the bar following a horrible experience with an unethical practitioner. Egan writes in his opening letter in the CSB FY12 Annual Report, "We continue to find, in addition to addressing a client's monetary loss, an expression of apology to the client for his or her experience is very important. We are the first representatives of the organized bar they encounter. Clients are also very impressed by the fact that any awards come only from funds paid by members of the bar, and no public funds are involved."

"These points often get lost in the economics, but I find they resonate with the claimants and I hope begin to reinforce to them that they experienced an aberration not reflective of all the decent able members of the bar," said Egan, who is currently fulfilling his last in a five-year appointment on the CSB.

Fellow board members of Egan and Morrissey include Michelle M. Porter (vice chair); Denzil D. McKenzie (treasurer); Edward S. Cheng (secretary); D. Ethan Jeffery; and Joseph H. Baldiga.