Complaint Process: Rules and Steps

Complaint Process Rules and Steps

This question and answer sheet has been prepared to inform the public about the Maine Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection and the procedures for making a claim. It summarizes parts of the Supreme Judicial Court's rules for the Fund. Claimants should obtain and read the entire rule before taking action.

What is the Maine Lawyers' Fund?

The Maine Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (Fund) was established by order of the State of Maine Supreme Judicial Court on July 1, 1997. The purpose of the Fund is to reimburse clients in whole or in part for losses caused by dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed to practice in Maine.

Where does the Fund get its money?

Every lawyer who is registered in Maine and all full time judges contribute an annual fee to the Fund. The Court sets the amount of the fee.

Who administers the Fund?

A seven person Board of Trustees (Trustees) consisting of five lawyers and two non-lawyers administer the Fund. The Trustees are appointed by the Court and serve without compensation.

What claims are reimbursable?

The Trustees may only consider claims for reimbursement that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Losses from a lawyer's dishonest conduct that occurred after January 1, 1999;
  2. Losses caused by the dishonest conduct after January 1, 1999 of a lawyer who has resigned, died, been adjudged insane, been disciplined, been convicted of embezzlement or misappropriation of money or other property of his or her client, or whose whereabouts are unknown;
  3. Claims that are certified by the Board of Overseers of the Bar to the Trustees.
  4. The Trustees may, in their discretion, consider claims for reimbursement based on hardship or unusual circumstances even if those claims are otherwise excluded.

Is there a time limit for filing a claim?

Yes. A claim must be filed no later than three years after the client knew of or should have known of the dishonest conduct. In no case will any claim be considered later than ten years after the date of the dishonest conduct.

Is there a maximum amount that may be reimbursed?

Yes. The rule limits reimbursement to $50,000.00 per claim and a total of $100,000.00 of claims per lawyer.

What claims will not be paid?

The Trustees will not reimburse the following types of claims:

  • Losses incurred by close relatives, partners, associates, or employees of the lawyer causing the loss;
  • Losses that are covered by a bond or insurance or which are reimbursable by any type of bond or insurance;
  • Losses incurred by any financial institution, any insurance company or any business entity controlled by the lawyer;
  • Losses arising from the activities of a lawyer not having an office or residence in Maine, where those activities do not have substantial contacts with Maine;
  • Losses when it appears that there is no hardship, or where the client contributed to the loss, or when the client would be unjustly enriched by payment from the Fund;
  • Losses arising from a lawyer's negligence or malpractice not involving dishonesty.

How does one make a claim?

Claim forms are available from the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, P.O. Box 5084 , Augusta, ME 04332 , telephone: 207-623-7801. Before a claim can be processed it must be investigated by Bar Counsel who is the investigating lawyer for the Board of Overseers and the Trustees. Claimants will have to show evidence of loss and may be asked to testify at a hearing before the Trustees.

Does one need a lawyer to file a claim?

No. The claim forms are designed so that anyone can complete one without the need of the services of a lawyer. If a lawyer does help a claimant fill out a form, that lawyer may not charge the claimant for that service.

What is asked on the Claim Form?

A claimant is asked the usual identification questions: the name of anyone representing the claimant; the amount requested to be reimbursed; the details of the loss; what steps were taken by the claimant after the loss was discovered; what happened to the lawyer involved; when the claim may have been certified by the Board of Overseers; what documents support the claim; and why the claimant should receive reimbursement.

What are the "Limitations and Agreements" on the Form?

The legal language in the section titled "IMPORTANT; LIMITATIONS AND AGREEMENTS:" means that the claimant agrees:

  • To assign to the Fund the claimant's rights to recover money from the lawyer up to the amount that the Fund reimbursed the claimant;
  • To join in legal action by the Trustees to recover lost funds and to agree that the Fund will be paid from any money recovered from that legal action up to the amount previously paid to the claimant;
  • To notify the Trustees of any legal action the claimant takes against the lawyer; and
  • That the Trustees may decide to take legal action against the lawyer to recover money paid by the Fund to the claimant, or to recover additional money owed by the lawyer to the claimant. The Trustees may decide to take no legal action against the lawyer. In each case, neither the permission nor approval of the claimant is required.

The "NOTICE TO CLAIMANT" points out that the Trustees are not responsible for lawyers' conduct and therefore any payments for such losses are in the Trustees' discretion. Also, only the person or persons directly suffering the loss may make a claim, but these claimants have no right to the reimbursement.

What happens next?

After the investigation and hearing, if one has been held, the Trustees will make a determination if the claim is eligible for reimbursement. If the claim is not eligible, the claimant will be notified in writing why the claim has been denied. Payments may be made in a lump sum or in installment amounts in the discretion of the Trustees. If a claimant is not satisfied with the Trustees' decision, the claimant may request reconsideration of the decision within thirty days of the decision. If no request is made or the request is denied, the decision of the Trustees is final.