On Thursday, November 16, 2023,  the Third District, Section II Subcommittee of the Virginia State Bar issued a Public Reprimand to attorney Erik M. Helbing for his misconduct stemming from his unlicensed debt relief practice in the state.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Erik M. Helbing,” with case no. 23-032-128108.

The charges cited Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.15 which states:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the Status Of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.

A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client or a third party, or held by a lawyer as a fiduciary, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses shall be deposited in one or more identifiable trust accounts; all other property held on behalf of a client should be placed in a safe deposit box or other place of safekeeping as soon as practicable.

Promptly pay or deliver to the client or another as requested by such person the funds, securities, or other properties in the possession of the lawyer that such person is entitled to receive; and (5) not disburse funds or use property of a client or of a third party with a valid lien or assignment without their consent or convert funds or property of a client or third party, except as directed by a tribunal.

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

In 2015, Helbing operated a debt relief law firm called Helbing Law Group (HLG) out of Pennsylvania, where he was licensed to practice. Although not licensed in Virginia, HLG provided debt relief services to Virginia residents by purporting to negotiate debts and represent clients in potential legal matters. In October 2021, HLG signed a Virginia consumer, identified as AM, to a debt relief agreement through an online search.

Under the agreement, AM paid HLG over $5,899.84 to negotiate over $44,000 in debt owed to eight creditors. However, Helbing failed to properly negotiate or resolve any of AM’s debts. By May 2022, AM’s accounts had fallen into default and collections after receiving no assistance from HLG despite monthly payments. When AM began contacting creditors directly, she quickly negotiated settlements on her own.

AM filed a complaint against Helbing with the Virginia State Bar on July 14, 2022. The investigation found Helbing kept over 60% of AM’s monthly payments as attorney’s fees but failed to communicate with AM or perform meaningful work on her case. Helbing claimed to have an “of counsel” relationship with a Virginia attorney, Thomas Bunting, but Bunting stated he had no involvement with AM’s case or knowledge of being named in her agreement.

Accordingly, Helbing consented to a public reprimand with for violating rules regarding competence, diligence, safekeeping of client funds, and unauthorized practice of law. Helbing had provided or offered legal services in Virginia without a license, taking on a Virginia client and holding out the availability of Virginia legal representation through Bunting.

As part of the agreed disposition, Helbing must pay costs associated with the disciplinary process. He is also prohibited from taking on any new clients in Virginia. The public reprimand serves as an official sanction on Helbing’s record over his deceptive debt relief activities in the state.

According to avvo.com, Mr. Helbing is a debt settlement attorney in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He attended the Syracuse University College of Law, graduating in 2006.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.