If you learn that a lawyer has become indefinitely unavailable—because the lawyer died, became disabled to the point that s/he can no longer practice law, or disappeared without notice to clients—please contact the North Carolina State Bar. If your lawyer was disbarred, suspended, or otherwise prohibited from practicing law and simply left his or her practice without notifying clients, returning client files, or returning unearned fees, please contact the State Bar. If the unavailable lawyer is a member of a law firm, please also contact the other lawyers in the firm.
If the unavailable lawyer is a solo practitioner, the State Bar may need to arrange for appointment of a trustee to protect the lawyer’s clients. In that case, the State Bar will ask the court in the district where the lawyer practiced to appoint a qualified member of the Bar to serve as trustee pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 84-28(j) and 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1B § .0122, and will help the trustee wind down the lawyer’s practice. The primary purpose of a trusteeship is to protect the interests of the lawyer’s clients. Trusteeships are generally intended to shut down, rather than to preserve, the lawyer’s practice. The trustee does not represent the unavailable lawyer’s former clients. The trustee’s primary responsibilities are to let clients know they must arrange for new counsel, to refund unearned fees or other funds remaining in the lawyer’s trust account, and to help clients obtain their client files.
The trustee’s first priority is to notify each client whose case is still pending of the need to seek a new lawyer and to arrange for each client to obtain his or her client file. The trustee might not directly contact former clients whose cases have already been resolved, but might instead publish notice explaining how those clients can obtain their client files. Before the trustee disburses any money from the trust account, the trustee and the State Bar will conduct a detailed review of bank and other records to identify the rightful owners of remaining funds. This process can be very time-consuming, but will be completed as promptly as possible.
If you are a client and you believe you are the victim of theft by a lawyer, you may be eligible for reimbursement of all or part of your loss through the Client Security Fund.
If you are a lawyer who is or may be appointed to serve as a trustee, please download and review the Trustee Handbook, a resource created by the State Bar to help trustees in the wind-down process.
For more information, or to report an unavailable lawyer, contact the State Bar at (919) 828-4620.