Client Protection Fund of the Wyoming State Bar
The Client Protection Fund (CPF) of the Wyoming State Bar was created to help reimburse clients who lose money or property as a result of dishonest conduct by their lawyer. Wyoming lawyers developed the program and fund it with license fees paid by members of the Bar. The Fund is one way the Bar and its members compensate for the misdeeds of a few lawyers. Awards from the Client Protection Fund are discretionary and are not a matter of right.
The Client Protection Fund will consider a monetary award to reimburse a client for money or property taken by a member of the Wyoming State if:
- the loss arose out of and by reason of a lawyer-client relationship;
- the loss resulted from the lawyer’s wrongful conduct in the nature of theft or embezzlement of money or other wrongful taking or conversion of money, property or other things of value, including failure to refund fees received in advance as required by Rule 1.16 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct; and
- the claim is filed with the bar within four years after the claimant knew or should have known of the lawyer’s dishonest conduct.
Losses Not Covered
The following types of losses are not covered:
- losses that are the result of lawyer negligence or malpractice;
- losses from business or investment relationships between lawyer and client, including loans to the lawyer;
- damages resulting from the lawyer’s dishonesty (other than the value of the lost money or property);
- Interest on the misappropriated money or property;
- attorney fees or costs incurred to obtain a judgment from the lawyer or otherwise attempt recovery of the misappropriated money or property;
- losses covered by an insurance or surety contract or bond;
- losses incurred by spouses, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, associates and employees of lawyer(s) causing the losses.
Filing a Claim
Claims must be submitted on a notarized Client Protection Fund Statement of Claim Form. It can be completed online, but the completed application must be printed, signed and mailed to the Bar.
Claims must be presented by the injured client or the client’s authorized representative.
Claimants do not need a lawyer to submit the claim; however, bar members are encouraged to assist claimants without charge in preparing or presenting claims. A claimant who would like assistance in presenting a claim may ask the Bar to supply the name of a volunteer lawyer.
Claims are initially reviewed by the chair of the CPF Committee, comprised of nine lawyers appointed by the Wyoming Supreme Court. If the application is complete and on its face appears to be eligible, it is assigned for investigation to a member of the CPF Committee, who makes a report with recommendations to the CPF Committee. The affirmative vote of five members of the CPF Committee is required for approval of a claim, subject to a limit of $15,000.00 per claimant per calendar year. Payments from the Client Protect Fund are discretionary and are not a matter of right. The CPF Committee’s decision is final and non-appealable.
Every effort is made to process each claim as quickly as possible. However, the thorough investigation and orderly processing of claims may take several months, depending upon the nature of the investigation. Once the CPF Committee makes a decision, the claimant or the lawyer may request reconsideration of the denial or the determination of the amount of the claim. Such requests must be made within 30 days.
Claimants must provide all necessary information and documentation to prove that their claims are eligible for reimbursement. Claimants must agree to cooperate with the CPF Committee’s efforts to recover CPF payments from the lawyer or any other source.
The Client Protection Fund was created for a specific purpose and does not cover all monetary disputes between lawyers and clients. The Fund does not cover losses due to a lawyer’s negligence; it also does not resolve disputes over the reasonableness of a lawyer’s fee. If a problem is not covered by the Fund, there may be other Wyoming State Bar resources or programs that can help, including:
- Office of Bar Counsel (reviews all inquiries and complaints about unethical conduct by a lawyer);
- Fee Arbitration Program (for resolving fee disputes between lawyer and client);
- Lawyer Referral Service (referrals to lawyers in private practice).
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the Fund financed?
The Fund is financed by mandatory license fees paid by members of the Wyoming State Bar. No tax dollars are used. The nature of the Fund demonstrates the genuine desire of Wyoming lawyers to maintain the reputation and integrity of the legal profession by compensating clients for the dishonest actions of a few of its members.
How can I prove my loss?
The best way to prove a loss is to provide copies of (1) cancelled checks or receipts showing payment of fees or receipt of other money by the lawyer on the client’s behalf, (2) a written fee agreement, (3) correspondence with the lawyer or any other papers showing how much money the lawyer received and, (4) in cases involving unearned fees, documents reflecting what work was done (or not done) by the lawyer. Any other documents that reflect the lawyer’s disposition of the client funds is also helpful.
How much can I recover?
The amount of an award from the Client Protection Fund will depend on the type and amount of the loss. No reimbursement will exceed the amount of fees actually paid or money actually received by the lawyer on the client’s behalf. The maximum award for any claim is $15,000 per calendar year.
Does the Fund seek to recover payments made?
In exchange for a reimbursement award, the Fund takes an assignment of the claimant’s rights against the lawyer or others who may be liable for the loss. The Fund vigorously pursues collection against dishonest lawyers and collateral sources where appropriate.
What if I disagree with the fees charged by my lawyer?
The Wyoming State Bar has a separate Fee Arbitration Program for resolving fee disputes. The Client Protection Fund may reimburse the unearned portion of a fee if there is evidence that the lawyer provided no legal services to the client, or if some part of the fee was unearned.