It’s more than talking about money

Gina Hendryx talks to attorneys often about money.
That’s her job.
Actually, it’s just part of her job as Oklahoma Bar Association general counsel.
Hendryx presented a Continuing Legal Education seminar on Money and Ethics to members of the Tulsa County Bar Association that included one hour of ethics.
Topics included trust accounts, expenses, loans, gifts, fee divisions, liens and unclaimed proceeds.
These seminars serve as a reminder to attorneys to be careful with client accounts and pay attention to business, she said.
Money and the misuse of client funds is the number one problem that can get a lawyer disbarred, Hendryx continued. It is not the most prevalent problem among lawyers, but it definitely is the most serious. Lawyers, for the most part, don’t break the client’s trust and try to follow all rules.
But sometimes they make a mistake during the day-to-day business and errors creep in and that’s when problems begin.
That is why Hendryx urges attorneys to maintain good record keeping, making absolutely certain all prescribed accounting procedures and rules on client accounts are followed.
She also reminded attorneys to be certain they were charging reasonable and earned fees, using extra caution in the use of credit and debit cards while being good fiduciary stewards of a client’s funds.
Credit card use allows attorneys to take legal fees from an account, Hendryx said. Debit or credit cards are used to pay filing and court fees.
It was just seven or eight years ago that debit card use to pay fees was generally discouraged, she said. That philosophy has changed with electronic filing at the federal level and Oklahoma is expected to follow as that technology is introduced in the state.
Debit card use is approved for filing fees only, not for attorney-earned fees at this time, Hendryx said. Eventually, changes will occur in these requirements as rules are changed.
Money isn’t the only issue that can get attorneys in trouble.
Neglecting clients tops the list.
People calling, saying they are not being able to get in touch with their attorney — that he or she doesn’t return calls heads the list of complaints, she said. Some clients say they have been sitting in jail for months without any legal help from their lawyer.
When those neglect calls are received the offending attorney is notified of the complaint and asked what they are going to do about it, Hendryx said. Attorneys are required to report changes back to the OBA legal counsel about what is being done to prevent the problem from happening again.
However, those complaints also trigger an alert as the OBA legal staff starts watching for possible future trends.
As complaints continue to occur, perhaps five or six within a two month period, an investigation begins to look deeper to see if there are underlying issues — drug or alcohol abuse, depression or gambling problems.
These are the same issues the general population has, Hendryx said. It also is seen in the professional ranks, whether legal, medical or other professional. No profession or population segment is immune.
Another serious complaint against attorneys occurs when there is a willful co-mingling of client and personal funds, Hendryx said. Only a small percentage of attorneys do this.
These CLE programs are held to remind attorneys about the common complaints against the profession, she said. It is an effort to inform them about possible problems so they don’t become a statistic.
Hendryx, who has been OBA General Counsel for six months, formerly had served as the association ethics counsel.
During that time she has assembled a staff of attorneys who have been in private practice, understand the problems in the profession and issues facing lawyers each day.

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