Rule 1.15 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, or its equivalent, requires that lawyers who are entrusted with the property of law clients and third persons in the practice of law must hold that property with the care required of a professional fiduciary. The basis for Rule 1.15 is the lawyer’s fiduciary obligation to safeguard trust property, to segregate it from the lawyer’s own property, and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Rule 1.15 specifically requires a lawyer to preserve “complete records” with respect to a law firm’s trust accounts. It also obligates a lawyer to “promptly render a full accounting” for the receipt and distribution of trust property. A violation of Rule 1.15 may subject a lawyer to professional discipline. Rule 1.15 does not, however, provide lawyers or law firms with practical guidance in complying with these fiduciary obligations or in establishing basic accounting control systems for their law practices.
The Model Rules for Client Trust Account Records is intended to give further definition to the requirements of Rule 1.15. Adapted from existing court rules, and incorporating both changes in banking laws and advances in technology that affect both norms in banking practice and lawyer practice, it proposes uniform and minimal standards for the maintenance of records related to client funds held in trust. These standards should guide lawyers and law firms, particularly those new to the practice of law.
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