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Rise in Number of Tenn. Lawyers Disciplined for Stealing or Misusing Client Funds

Posted Jan 6, 2012 1:45 PM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky

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More Tennessee lawyers are facing discipline for stealing or misusing client funds as the economy continues to take a toll on firms and solo practitioners.

Others have simply closed up shop and disappeared without notice, the Associated Press reports.

"Some lawyers are just abandoning their practices because they can't make their business model work, and they're not telling their clients and they're not telling the judges," Nancy S. Jones, chief disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, told the AP.

"Clients have been calling our office saying, 'I can't find my lawyer,'" Jones said. "It's been a nightmare for everyone involved."

TBRB board members met in December to address the increasing number of lawyers facing discipline for overdrafts in their trust accounts, particularly among solos who work on criminal or divorce cases, to pay toward business expenses as clients and cases fail to materialize.

"I think that lawyers are not making enough money to pay their personal expenses, and they think 'I'll get the money, I'll put the money back, nobody will know about it and it will be fine,' and they just keep on doing it until they get in an overdraft situation and then we find out about it," Jones said, according to the report.

Clients who have lost money due to an unethical lawyer can apply for assistance through the Tennessee Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection.

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