Sharing the caseload: System is in place to take over work of lawyer

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

The community said goodbye to Peter Mysing at his funeral Wednesday evening, but the attorney's work life continues and must be taken care of.

Fortunately, the Alaska Bar Association has a fairly simple system in place for dealing with the difficult circumstances of losing an active lawyer.

Basically, the bar association appoints an attorney who makes sure that the deceased attorney's clients find replacement representation.

Mysing, 59, was killed in a two-vehicle crash earlier this month. Police continue to investigate the death.

At the time of the crash, Mysing had a caseload of about 30, according to Bar Counsel Steve Van Goor.

Van Goor said there is a formula for making sure the cases get handled.

"When a sole practitioner passes away or becomes unavailable, we have a process where we go to Superior Court to ask for a lawyer known as the trustee counsel," Van Goor said.

The trustee counsel takes on the responsibility of contacting the lawyer's clients and helping them find adequate legal representation.

In addition, when a lawyer's cases need to be transferred to a different attorney, the state allows a 60-day stay on the legal proceedings.

"It gives the client breathing room to find other counsel," Van Goor said.

Kenai attorney Blaine Gilman was appointed the trustee attorney for Mysing's cases.

Gilman said it has been a demanding task, and he's still working on contacting all of Mysing's clients. But he's confident the transition will be taken care of as soon as possible, estimating it should take several weeks.

"What this (process) does do is it doesn't leave clients in a lurch," Gilman said.

It starts with sending formal letters to Mysing's clients.

"We explain that Mr. Mysing has died and that they are going to have to obtain another attorney. Have they thought of who they want to use?" Gilman said. Then, Gilman helps them decide how to proceed.

Van Goor said the transition's difficulty often relates to how well an attorney was doing his or her job.

"If the office has not been run well, correspondence hasn't been opened, calls haven't been returned then the trustee might have a quite a job."

Gilman said the region's tight-knit legal community has eased the process.

"We're all pretty close. We have a very good active bar association, which is well managed, so everybody keeps in contact pretty well," Gilman said. "When we have cases against each other we litigate hard, but we can all act as gentleman or lady attorneys.

"We're very cordial here and that makes it a nice place to practice law."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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