Approximately one-in-four Maryland attorneys have received a stern letter recently from the Client Protection Fund of Maryland threatening their law licenses. The reason is not for something they did in court, however; rather, it’s what they forgot to do online.
This year was only the second time the annual assessment could be paid to the fund online, and it was the first time no accompanying forms had to be mailed, according to Janet Moss, the fund’s executive director. More than half of Maryland lawyers paid their assessment online this year, but thousands did not log in to complete their registration, a separate process.
“I don’t think that people do this on purpose, they just are used to doing things a certain way,” Moss said. “Hard to change.”
As a result, more than 10,000 of Maryland’s 40,000 licensed attorneys were notified they failed to provide the treasurer of the fund with their federal tax identification number (or a statement that they do not have one), meaning they were not registered, Moss said.
“It’s an oversight, that’s all,” Moss said. “Everything’s changing every year right now.”
Despite needing to send thousands of letters to prod lawyers into compliance, Moss said moving things online has made it easier on the four-person team that runs the fund.
Letters notifying attorneys of the deficiency were sent Dec. 7 and more than half are now in compliance, but not without some concerned calls to the fund.
“It’s their license to practice law,” she said. “It’s a very important thing.”
Maryland Rule 19-605 requires attorneys to provide the fund with their Social Security number, tax identification number and pay the assessment. The requirement is annual even if the information does not change. (The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year upheld a challenge to the requirement.)
Attorneys must comply by Dec. 31 by logging into the fund’s website at mdcourts.gov/cpf. A tentative list of attorneys not in compliance will be sent to the Court of Appeals in February, according to Moss.
The process is easy, Moss said, and callers to the fund in the last week have breathed a sigh of relief when they learn it’s a quick fix.
“This will take you less than a minute to accomplish,” she said. “Get on, do it, the information goes automatically to our computer. You’re in compliance then. That’s all we care about.”