It’s only allegations at this point so take this all as such.
I don’t get how a reputable, successful lawyer can one day just start stealing from or lying to clients, but that is what allegedly happened. Chicago workers’ compensation lawyer, Joel Bell, was accused by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) recently of failing to deliver settlement money to his clients and using that money for his own personal use.
Bell isn’t someone I recommend, but he’s also not someone who I would have said before now is a bad lawyer. Certainly there are many others who seem to do a much worse job than he does. I had cases against him years ago when I started off as a defense attorney and I thought he did a good job.
He’s accused of taking amounts as low as $391 and as high as $95,000.00. In all he’s accused of taking $364,000.00! I don’t get how anyone could do this. It’s not as if the clients are going to just go away or accept that the money was stolen. Yet he’s accused of telling the son of a client that the money would be paid soon when he had already taken it for his own use.
While I’m not aware of his personal finances, this is a lawyer who had/has lots of clients. He seemed to have a great career having been involved in thousands of cases. These again are just allegations, but this is of course a huge red flag.
I’ve had people call me over the years and tell me that their settlement contracts were signed months ago, but they haven’t received anything yet. They tell me that they think their attorney stole the money and I usually think that is crazy. Because as a lawyer you’d have to be crazy to steal your client’s settlement. Not only is it potentially a major felony, it could cost you your career and the chances of getting caught are very high. Especially when you take large amounts like is alleged here.
It will be interesting to see where this goes, but it doesn’t look good. As a FYI, once settlement contracts are submitted and approved by an Arbitrator, your lawyer usually receives the settlement check within 30 days. One week after they get it they should be able to pay you. If it takes months and you get nothing but excuses or no answers, you should probably file a complaint with the ARDC. One of the reasons people like working with us through our state wide network is that we are more accountable and if for some reason a lawyer was pulling this type of nonsense, I can personally intervene and find out what is going on.
UPDATE: Joel Bell was suspended from practicing law as of December 2, 2016. That is not a final ruling.