There are many Texas attorneys who advertise that they will “serve as both your bail bond agent (bondsman) and your attorney” and that they provide “competitive rates” for bail bonds that can later be applied to legal fees.
Never Hire an Attorney that will also be your Bail Bondsman
We strongly recommend that you NEVER hire an attorney that also agrees to be your bail bondsman. Although “attorney bonds” are permitted in Texas, it appears that Texas may be the only state that explicitly allows this practice.
There is an excellent article written by two law professors, Dayla S. Pepi and Donna Bloom, entitled “Take the Money or Run: the Risky Business of Acting as Both Your Client’s Lawyer And Bail Bondsman.” This article fully discusses the practice of attorneys acting as bondsmen. As Professors Pepi and Bloom point out, most states and the American Bar Association (the “ABA”) believe that it is unethical for attorneys to also act as their clients’ bondsmen. For example, at the time of the article, ABA Formal Opinion 432, ABA’s Standards for Criminal Justice 4-3.5 and ethics opinions and/or laws in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin suggested that this practice is illegal and/or unethical except in limited circumstances.
1. There is a Conflict of Interest
The reason for this is clear. Where a lawyer is both a client’s attorney and bondsman, there is an obvious conflict of interest. Remember, if a client fails to appear in court, a bondsman can lose the full bond amount, therefore, an attorney wearing both hats has conflicting loyalties. For example, a lawyer might refrain from informing a client about the weakness in their case for fear the client will jump bond, causing the attorney to be out of bond money. Conversely, a lawyer may be quick to get off a bond in order to protect their assets. Such is the case when there is new information, sometimes confidential information, that causes the lawyer unease that the client may not comply with bond conditions. Likewise, the lawyer may not inform you that they are getting off the bond and you could find yourself at your next court appearance facing a bond revocation and no lawyer to advocate against it. In many ways, a bondsman, is your “jailer,” as you await trial. You want your attorney to be your advocate and a person you can fully confide in. You do not want your lawyer to be your jailer who is constantly monitoring and analyzing what you tell him in order to make sure you are complying with bond conditions.
2. It Locks You In
Besides, what if, you decide later that you do not want the lawyer hired to post your bond, to represent you anymore? You are typically trapped and that is just the way this particular lawyer wants it. It is almost certain that the lawyer who also serves as your bondsman will tell you that, if you fire him, he will go off your bond. This could result in you being arrested for an insufficient bond before you are able to hire a new lawyer and arrange for a real bail bondsman to assume your bond.
At Broden & Mickelsen, we have clients come to us after their attorney/bondsmen have went “off the bond” without providing any notice to the client. We have successfully used a section of the Texas Occupation Code to force the attorney to return the bond fee to the client and/or stay on the bond. [pullquote type=”left” cite=”Tex. Occ Code § 1704.207″]If the court finds that a contested surrender was without reasonable cause, the court may require the person who executed the bond to refund to the principal all or part of the fees paid for execution of the bond.”[/pullquote] Nevertheless, despite this provision in the Occupation Code, you could wind up sitting in jail while this is all sorted out if you do not have money to post a new bond.
The bottom line is that we strongly urge you to not only walk away, but quickly run away from any attorney who advertises that they also post bonds for their clients. The lawyer will tell you that the reason they do this is to “help” the client or to provide “one stop shopping.” Don’t be fooled. In reality, most lawyers do this for one reason: to make more money. They make money for legal fees and for acting as a bondsman. Again, this practice is not prohibited in Texas, but is generally considered unethical by many states, bar associations, and legal scholars. Why then hire a lawyer who is willing to engage in such a questionable practice in order to make a bit more money at the possible expense of their client?