An attorney was disbarred by their state supreme court recently after she borrowed money from a client who was in jail. The attorney was managing a probate matter for the incarcerated client and was instructed to hold the more than $48,000 inheritance until the client was released. Instead, the attorney used some of that money for herself and when the client was freed in 2011 she was unable to produce the funds that belonged to him.
The attorney repaid the money in installments at first, and then obtained a loan to repay the full balance, which mitigated her punishment by the state supreme court slightly. She has also been ordered to pay about $1,000 to cover costs associated with the disciplinary case.
While this case simply involves an ethics investigation and not a legal malpractice suit, this type of conduct by an attorney could certainly indicate other types of wrongdoing or negligent in relationship to client's cases.
As we've discussed in the past, attorneys owe a high duty of care to their clients to make sure that they do not harm the client's case in any way. Particularly when dealing a client who is detained for a criminal matter, it is crucial that attorneys make their best effort to stay in contact with their clients when issues arise. However, clients should know that there are no circumstances under which it is acceptable for an attorney to borrow money from clients.
In cases where misconduct or negligence by an attorney impacted the outcome of a lawsuit or a criminal case, clients can pursue a legal malpractice claim.
Source: ABA Journal, "Lawyer who spent jailed client's $48K without his permission loses license for 2 years," Martha Neil, April 4, 2013.