Reality television could help change the world for the better, and it couldn’t come from a more unlikely place. We have one of the characters on the popular television show Real Housewives of Sherman Oaks to thank. Because of the flaunting of wealthy lifestyle choices, the character drew some unwanted attention. Why? Because this main character was the wife of an attorney and during the filming of the failing marriage it became apparent the attorney was not using client funds as he should.
It turns out the attorney was skimming money from settlement awards that was meant to go to his clients. Clients that included widows and children of victims of airplane accidents and victims of serious medical malpractice cases.
The example is, unfortunately, not unique. The problem is one that spans back for decades and is present throughout the country. After this case became public, however, lawmakers started to push for legislative reform. In Illinois, for example, Representative Bob Morgan introduced HB 4128 to ease the ability of clients to push back if they believe their attorney has failed to provide their award.
Most states already have laws in place that require attorneys keep track of their client’s money and keep it separate from their own funds. In fact, the State Bar of California has filed discipline charges against the attorney husband in the case above, Tom Girardi, and he faces accusations of the misappropriation of millions from clients.
If laws like the one proposed in Illinois are passed, states may also require clients get their money within a set period of time and provide an avenue for the client to file a legal malpractice lawsuit against any attorney that fails to do so. Although Illinois is blazing the trail for this type of reform, it is far from likely to be the only state to consider this type of law.