Informal Opinion Number: 2020-19

Adoption Date: 2020

Rules: 4-1.15; 4-5.1; 4-5.3
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Law Firms and Associations
Safekeeping Property
Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers
Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants
Subject: Trust Accounts and Safekeeping Property
Summary: nonlawyer signatory on trust account

QUESTION: May a nonlawyer be a signatory on Attorney’s trust account or authorize electronic transfers from the trust account?

Only a lawyer admitted to practice in Missouri or a person under the lawyer’s direct supervision is permitted to be an authorized signatory or to authorize electronic transfers from the trust account. Rule 4-1.15(a)(3). Comment [2] provides guidance that if nonlawyer access to the trust account is granted, it should be “limited and closely monitored by the lawyer.” Comment [2] provides additional guidance that a Missouri lawyer has a “non-delegable duty to protect and preserve the funds in a client trust account and can be disciplined for failure to supervise subordinates who misappropriate client funds. See Rules 4-5.1 and 4-5.3.” See also In re Farris, 472 S.W.3d 549, 561 (Mo. banc 2015). Attorney should establish proper trust account policies and properly train and supervise nonlawyers and subordinate lawyers in the firm to ensure reasonable measures are being taken to ensure the trust account is being handled in a way that is compatible with Attorney’s professional obligations. See Rules 4-5.1 and 4-5.3. 

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.

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