When Hiring A South Carolina Lawyer, One Thing You Should Never Do.

After you read this section decide for yourself whether South Carolina lawyers have dirty tactics available to them that lawyers in other states don't have and could get sued for using. You may want to contact your elected officials to help change this law.

Chapter One - Holding On To A Client's Money For Dear Life.

Many South Carolina lawyers are conscientious, hard working, put the interest of their clients first and contribute to their communities. But when your interests differ from those of your lawyer you must protect yourself. Do not depend on lawyer regulators to turn the clock back and fix a problem for you.

I have trouble believing one lawyer in a thousand would do this once in their career and prominent lawyers in another state wrote an article saying that if lawyers in their state did this they could be sued for tort damages-all apparently ethical and legal in South Carolina.

South Carolina and some other states have an almost unheard of law for the benefit of lawyers called a retaining lien. This law allows lawyers to retain money belonging to unsuspecting clients who, for example, put money into a lawyer's trust account for safe keeping. This tactic can come into play when a lawyer claims that the client owes him money for fees. The claim may or may not be valid but South Carolina law allows attorneys to hold the amount "in dispute" until the matter has been resolved. This can all be done without the due process afforded by starting a lawsuit or getting a court order.

We recently became aware of how two prominent Charleston, South Carolina lawyers not only used this tactic to refuse to turn over money to a client but actually wrote a check to another lawyer on the client's money held in a trust account. When the other lawyer was told by the client that it had not authorized the check to be written and it's acceptance might be illegal the lawyer returned the check. But he did immediately receive a check in the same amount drawn on the business account of the first two lawyers. As stated earlier the first two lawyers then deducted that amount from the client's share of the money held in trust.

More specifically, the two lawyers held in the client's trust account tens of thousands of dollars more than they claim was in dispute. Their law office promised to forward at least the undisputed portion of the funds to the client but never did. The client had his own lawyer travel hundreds of miles to get the full balance due or at least the promised amount.

The South Carolina lawyers had another trick up their sleeves. They wrote a check on the client's trust funds to another lawyer, reducing the amount they were willing to give the client and continued to hold tens of thousands of dollars that there was no dispute about. The client did not get its undisputed portion of the funds until the lawyers got every last penny they demanded.

If you want to read a horror story about a lawyer turning his trust account into a ponzi scheme, click here.

Chapter Two - Was It A Violation Of The South Carolina Lawyer's Oath?

I can't answer this question. The South Carolina Lawyer's Oath reads in part "I... will accept no compensation in connection with a client's business except from the client or with the client's knowledge and approval". Did the lawyers involved in this case take the South Carolina Lawyer's Oath? Did they violate the oath by refusing to give the client its money and getting "approval" in the manner in which they did or can this even be called approval? Read the South Carolina Lawyer's Oath here, http://www.sccourts.org/courtOrders/displayOrder.cfm?orderNo=2003-10-22-03.

We would like to hear the opinion of lawyers and non- lawyers reading this. Please let us know what you think at info@hhwab.com.

Chapter 3 - How To Protect Yourself.

First you might want to educate yourself on how to deal with lawyers by going to the lawyer watch dog organization Halt website at http:/www.halt.org. I do not agree with everything this organization proposes to do but he most recent report card I could see for the disciplinary process in South Carolina was from 2006. South Carolina was given a D+. One reason you need to proactively protect yourself is that South Carolina's disciplinary system received the grade of F under public participation.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from lawyers who want your money when you may not agree they are entitled to it. First, if they have a lien on your proceeds such as in a personal injury case this is standard in all states that I am aware of and usually is not a problem.

The problem comes in when a lawyer is given a special privilege under South Carolina law, which does not exist in all other states, to hold your money until a claimed dispute is resolved. Suggestions I have for protecting yourself are never give a lawyer more money than he has earned. Do not put money in a lawyers trust account to be used for fees in the future. If you receive money as a result of a lawsuit and the lawyer does not have a lien on those funds immediately deposit the money in your own bank account. If you do not have a bank account, open an account at a bank or savings and loan to keep your money out of the hands of the lawyers.

Chapter 4 - Expect Little Help From Lawyer Regulators.

Lawyer Regulators often do things in secret. Someone who files what they think is a serious complaint against a lawyer may not even get to see and comment on the lawyer's response. The way I understand the procedure in South Carolina, if lawyer regulators like the response, even if the lawyer is lying, the complaining party does not always get to see and comment on the response to point out incorrect information submitted by the lawyer. This makes a cover-up more likely.

We all know the dangers of keeping information secret within a closed organization. The recent Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State involving Joe Paterno and others is a prime example of why groups with a common interest should not be allowed to keep secrets from the public about illegal or criminal conduct.

The new Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a procedure for making complaints against financial companies that requires the consumer be sent a copy of the company's response. We think this should be mandatory in attorney discipline cases to avoid a "cover-up" by lawyers protecting lawyers. The Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website is http:/www.consumerfinance.gov. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh conducted an investigation and issued a report that was referred to in a Boston Herald article entitled "Report: Joe Paterno, Penn State officials staged 14 year cover-up."

Chapter 5 - Help Change An Oppressive Law.

To be continued.