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Capping is a recipe for the destruction of a legal career

You've graduated and passed the bar. Wow, the world is your oyster, now all you need is a job. Or perhaps you are a victim of recent economics and have been laid off. You have spent weeks in a traditional, but unsuccessful search for employment. Then you see it — the employment ad that seems right for you. An opportunity to be your own boss.

You fax off your resume as instructed. It doesn't seem odd to you that there is no telephone number or address associated with the ad.

Several days later you get the telephone call — they want to interview you, tomorrow. You happily write down the instructions on how to find the firm and start getting prepared.

With your shoes newly shined and suit pressed you arrive at the offices and introduce yourself to the receptionist. You think this must really be a busy firm, what with all the people waiting and "employees" scurrying around.

You are conducted to an individual who identifies themselves as the office manager, who invites you to sit down for the interview. If you wonder about and comment on the fact that the interview is being conducted by the office manager, you will be told some story of unexpected events taking that person out of the office.

As the interview proceeds, you get the vague feeling the interviewer is interested in something other than your legal skills, but you aren't quite able to discern what. You soon forget those disquieting thoughts as the interviewer tells you that you are their new lawyer and they are going to put your name on the door and establish a trust account in your name, all without any investment on your part. They show your office, and it doesn't really dawn on you its smaller than anyone else's. They tell you about the nice monthly salary you will receive, and they will take care of all the headaches. They show you the secretaries and "paralegals" they have to handle cases and tell you your job is litigation. Your name may be on the door and the trust account, but who is really in control of the office? And where are "your" cases coming from?

Maybe you already have your own personal injury practice, but you are not doing so well. You are visited by a person who wants to "help" you increase your business. If you will hire them as your office manager they will guarantee to increase your income — the secret is for you to concentrate on litigation and let them take care of every thing else. Where is your increase in income and business going to come from? How long will you remain in control of your own office?

These scenarios and many like them play out daily in the Southern California metropolitan area.

If you are approached with a business proposition, remember if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

Business and Professions Code §6151 defines runners and cappers as any person, firm, association or corporation acting for consideration in any manner or in any capacity as an agent for an attorney at law in the solicitation or procurement of business for the attorney. Business and Professions Code §6152 prohibits anyone from acting as a runner or capper for any attorney.

Becoming associated with runners and cappers has disastrous consequences for your legal career.

EDMOND R. ANDERSON [#25229], 76, of Bloomington, Ill., was disbarred in 1998 for entering into an agreement to use cappers. Anderson and a non-lawyer opened a law office using Anderson's name with cases brought in by the non-lawyer through cappers. Anderson had no idea where the cases were coming from or even if the cases were valid. Even though Anderson denied all culpability on the grounds that he did not know how the non-lawyer secured the cases and what the non-lawyer was doing with respect to the cases, Anderson's abdication of responsibility for the law office to the non-lawyer did not relieve him of culpability for the ethical violations which occurred in the office. In September, 1998, Anderson was disbarred by the Supreme Court. (State Bar Case Number 95-O-10970).

MITCHELL KREITENBERG [#108440], 44, of Woodland Hills allowed his cousin to set up a law office using Kreitenberg's name and participated in a scheme where his client trust account was used to pay cappers. Kreitenberg deposited the settlement checks into his client trust account and made the appropriate disbursements to the clients and the medical providers, but the check that should have been for legal fees was also made out to the client. Kreitenberg's office manager would cash this second check written to the client at a check cashing facility and use the funds to pay the cappers to bring in more cases to Kreitenberg's office. The scheme also hid income from the taxing authorities. The review department of the State Bar Court has recently recommended to the Supreme Court that Mitchell Kreitenberg be disbarred. (In the Matter of Mitchell H. Kreitenberg, 99-C-11604, filed Nov. 22, 2002.)

Don't let this happen to you. If someone offers to set you up with your own law office and secure all the cases for you, run the other way. If the office appears to be under the control of a non-lawyer, leave. If a non-lawyer approaches you and offers you cases, regardless of the story, decline. Be sure of the bona fides of office management personnel you hire.

The B & P Code forbids paying anyone for cases, whether an attorney or someone else. The State Bar Web Site, www.calbar.ca.gov, lists all attorneys that are admitted to practice in California, their current addresses, and their current status with respect to practicing law. Use the web site, know your interviewers and prospective employers, know what is required of you and enjoy a long and fruitful career as an attorney.

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