What to do if you think your lawyer has stolen money
The Law Society requires lawyers to be honest. If you think your lawyer has stolen from you:
- You can make a complaint. The Law Society's Professional Conduct department investigates complaints about lawyer conduct (it does not deal with claims for compensation); and
- You may be entitled to compensation under trust protection coverage (see below). Trust protection coverage claims are managed by the Lawyers Insurance Fund, the Law Society's insurance department.
Trust protection coverage
Since 1949, the Law Society has provided financial protection so that innocent members of the public do not suffer hardship because of the actions of a dishonest lawyer. If your lawyer has stolen money or other property from you, you may be entitled to make a claim for reimbursement.
Although instances of theft are rare, lawyers value the public’s trust and do not want to see the integrity and reputation of the profession stained by the dishonest actions of a few.
How to make a claim
You must provide written notice to the Lawyers Insurance Fund within two years of becoming aware of the lawyer's theft and, in any event, within 10 years of the theft.
You do not need to hire a lawyer to assist with a claim, but there may be situations where you might wish to obtain your own independent legal advice about your claim.
Once the Lawyers Insurance Fund receives notice of a claim, it is assigned to a lawyer who will review the claim to determine whether it meets the criteria for payment under trust protection coverage.
As soon as the Lawyer’s Insurance Fund has received necessary information from you, investigation into the claim begins. Although the length of time required to conduct the investigation depends on various factors, such as other parallel investigations into the lawyer, we will work to resolve your claim as quickly as possible.
Before a trust protection coverage claim will be considered for payment, the following three requirements must be met:
- The claim must be the result of dishonest appropriation – your lawyer stealing money or other property. It doesn't matter if the lawyer uses the property him or herself, or gives it to someone else.
- The property taken must have been entrusted to and received by the lawyer acting in his or her capacity as a lawyer. If the lawyer has acted dishonestly in a matter that has nothing to do with the practice of law, it will not qualify for payment.
- The claim cannot be connected to the wrongful or unlawful conduct, fault or neglect of yourself or your spouse or anyone associated with your organization and you cannot have yourself obtained the lost property unlawfully.
There may be other policy terms that limit your entitlement to reimbursement, although they are unlikely to apply to most claims.
Trust protection coverage will not compensate you in cases where:
Trust protection coverage will reimburse you, on behalf of the lawyer who has stolen your money, for the value of the money taken. If the property taken isn't money (or its equivalent), you will be reimbursed for the property's actual cash value at the time the property was taken.
You may recover up to $300,000 per claim. Different limits apply if your lawyer was practicing in another province.
The amount paid will be reduced by any monies otherwise available to you, the lawyer, or the lawyer's law firm, to repay the stolen funds.
Challenging your claim assessment
If you disagree with the Lawyers Insurance Fund assessment of a claim, you can pursue the matter through the courts.
All lawyers in private practice carry professional liability insurance for negligence. If you believe you have a claim for negligence, you should notify your lawyer without delay about your claim. You may also want to seek independent legal advice.
about Trust Protection Coverage
Every lawyer in BC carries trust protection coverage insurance. If a claim is made against a lawyer relating to the theft of money or other property, this insurance is available to reimburse the claimant, on the lawyer's behalf, for the amount of the loss.
Trust protection coverage is provided through Part B of the BC Lawyers' Compulsory Professional Insurance Policy and claims for reimbursement are managed by the Lawyers Insurance Fund, which also manages negligence claims reported by lawyers under the policy.