Informal Opinion Number: 2011-01
Reference Note: Effective July 1, 2016, subdivision 4-1.15(f) of Rule 4 was repealed and a new subdivision 4-1.15(f) adopted in lieu thereof. This opinion is based on Rule 4-1.15 in effect prior to that date.
Question: Upon closure of the law firm and reconciliation of the trust account, firm’s trust account contains funds not belonging to clients. May the funds be disbursed to the firm’s former partners?
Answer: Under Rule 4-1.15, the balance may be disbursed to the appropriate attorneys only if the funds constitute earned fees and the attorneys overseeing the trust account have documentation supporting that conclusion. Complete documentation of the disbursement must be maintained. If ownership of the balance cannot be determined and supported, the attorneys must hold the funds separately, in trust, and relinquish the funds in accordance with Missouri’s Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act, as explained in Formal Opinion 118.
Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.
To request an Informal Opinion, please visit: https://mo-legal-ethics.org/for lawyers/requesting-an-informal-advisory-opinion/.
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