The purpose of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (LFCP) is to promote public confidence in the administration of justice and the integrity of the legal profession by reimbursing losses caused by the Dishonest Conduct of Lawyers admitted and licensed to practice law in the courts of Montana.
Montana lawyers believe that the public has a right to hold the legal profession accountable for the actions of its individual members. The Bar established, and now assures, funding for the LFCP in order to help reimburse those clients that have lost money because of the dishonest conduct or mishandling of funds by a Montana lawyer. On the rare occasions that a lawyer misappropriates or mishandles client funds, the LFCP steps in to honor the debt through whole or partial reimbursement. The LFCP is funded through annual fees for active lawyers licensed to practice in Montana. The nature of the Fund demonstrates, in part, the genuine desire of the Bar to compensate clients for the dishonest actions of a few of its members.
An application to receive LFCP reimbursement may be filed by any person who has lost money due to the dishonest conduct or mishandling of funds by a Montana lawyer provided that: (1) the accused attorney has died, been judged mentally incompetent, found guilty of a crime arising out of dishonest conduct, relinquished practice, or has been disbarred or suspended; (2) the dishonest act occurred within an attorney-client relationship; (3) the alleged act was the mishandling or embezzling of funds, not malpractice or negligence; and (4) the claimant has made reasonable attempt to recover the funds from the lawyer within a reasonable amount of time.
Funds do not cover losses resulting from an attorney's negligence or malpractice. Also, losses resulting from situations in which the attorney and client have entered into a personal business relationship outside the attorney-client relationship are not reimbursable from the Fund. Such matters may be reported by filing a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) for disciplinary action or may be the subject of malpractice suits. Information and complaint forms are available by calling the ODC at (877) 442-1648 or on the web at http://www.montanaodc.org
The Application for Relief and the Rules of LFCP are available below, or you may request the forms from the State Bar by contacting the Program Coordinator, Gino Dunfee, at (406) 447-2206 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fill our the form as completely as possible and return it as directed. You should keep a copy of the completed form for your own records. If you attach evidence or other documentation to the form, be sure to keep a copy of those as well. It is not necessary to retain a lawyer to submit a claim or to represent you for the claim. If a lawyer is retained, it is the policy of the LFCP that no fee or other compensation be paid by the LFCP to an attorney who assisted in the process of the claim.
After filing your claim, the LFCP will investigate each case and claim filed. A Board representative may contact the claimant for further information and will attempt to contact the lawyer named in the complaint. If the claim is complete upon submission and found to be eligible under the rules listed above, it will be presented to the Board for final consideration and decision. In determining the amount of reimbursement allowable, various factors are considered, including the overall amount in the Fund at the time the claim is made. Some claims may be very large and if full reimbursement were made to the client, no one else would receive funds. By limiting the dollar amount of reimbursement provided to some individuals, the funds will not be exhausted in a short period of time. Instead, partial awards can be given in order to ensure that more clients can receive awards.
After reviewing the claim, the Board may decide against reimbursement if they believe the attorney has earned the fees or the claim is for malpractice rather than theft. In that case, a written explanation is issued. In some instances, consideration of a claim may be delayed pending pursuit by the claimant of other possible sources of recovery (e.g., forgery claims, estate proceedings, etc.) or other possible disciplinary proceedings against a lawyer. Completion of the disciplinary action can often be very helpful to the final decision on a claim.
For more specific information about the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection in Montana, or to file a claim, please contact the State Bar of Montana at (406)447-2202.