There are many State Bar programs that maintain the competence of lawyers or improve the administration of justice and thereby indirectly help the public. Descriptions and links to more information about these programs appear below.
Two programs of the State Bar provide direct assistance to members of the public. The Attorney-Client Assistance Program (ACAP) responds to phone calls from anyone who has a complaint about a lawyer. The program provides referrals, helps to resolve issues between clients and lawyers on an informal basis, and, when appropriate, provides information about filing of a complaint against a lawyer. ACAP includes a fee dispute resolution program.
The Client Security Fund provides reimbursement to clients who have suffered a financial loss as the result of dishonest conduct by a lawyer in private practice. The fund is entirely financed by annual fees paid by every active member of the State Bar. For questions and answers about what losses are reimbursed and how to file a claim, click here.
The IOLTA—or Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts—Program collects the interest income generated from the trust accounts that lawyers must maintain for client funds and uses this income to fund programs that improve the administration of justice. The money is distributed in the form of grants. The largest grants are typically awarded to legal services programs.
Regulating the unauthorized practice of law is another activity, or program, of the State Bar that improves the administration of justice by preventing untrained, unlicensed people from providing incompetent legal services to unsuspecting members of the public.
A lawyer’s first duty to a client is to be competent. To maintain lawyer competency, the State Bar requires every lawyer with an active law license to take continuing legal education (CLE) courses. Each year, an active lawyer must take 12 hours of CLE, including 2 hours of professional responsibility (also known as legal ethics) CLE. The lawyer must report these hours to the State Bar and may be suspended from the practice of law for failure to complete the hours.
To encourage lawyers to become more skilled and knowledgeable in a particular practice area, the State Bar certifies lawyers as specialists in eight designated areas of law. The legal specialization program also helps a consumer of legal services to identify a lawyer who is qualified to handle the consumer’s legal matter.
Unfortunately, some lawyers suffer from alcoholism, substance abuse, and depression. The Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) identifies impaired lawyers and attempts to get them into treatment and recovery programs. Through early intervention, clients of an impaired lawyer are protected from potential neglect of their legal matters and the impaired lawyer may be rehabilitated.
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