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Legal consumers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to the National Law Journal for its extensive investigative report exposing the sham of client compensation funds (“ An Empty Promise,” August 21, 2000). Client compensation funds, and the larger attorney discipline systems that they supplement, simply do not effectively protect consumers who are victimized by unethical lawyers. As documented by the Journal’s research, a combination of poor funding, lack of publicity, endless claims processes and ridiculously low payment caps produce a tiny trickle of reimbursement for clients cheated by their lawyers. The attorney discipline systems compound these defects with secret lawyer- controlled proceedings that only rarely suspend or disbar practitioners (often a prerequisite for compensation). In those rare instances where attorneys were disbarred, most states allow those same attorneys to be later reinstated. There is a better alternative to this system: holding lawyers accountable under consumer protection laws. In state after state, the organized bar has argued that “the practice of law” should be immune from consumer protection laws. A lawyer who overbills a client or steals a client’s funds is committing fraud, not practicing law. It is outrageous to suggest that crooked lawyers should be above the laws that were enacted to protect consumers from garden-variety fraud. There is nothing unseemly in requiring lawyers to conduct their business dealings in accordance with measures that protect the public from deceptive and unfair practices. The sad truth is that the legal profession instead offers an empty promise of discipline and compensation. Until that changes, and lawyers are accountable under the laws that protect consumers from false and deceptive trade practices, the public will quite properly continue to distrust the legal profession. by James C. Turner and Steven E. Serdikoff Washington, D.C. James Turner is Executive Director and Steven Serdikoff is Associate Counsel of HALT — an Organization of Americans for Legal Reform (www.halt.org).

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