Informal Opinion Number: 2022-09

Adoption Date: 2022

Rules: 4-1.15
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Safekeeping Property
Subject: Trust Accounts and Safekeeping Property
Summary: fraudulent check on client trust account

Attorney has recently been notified by Bank of its receipt of a check that appears to be from the Attorney’s client trust account but is actually a fraudulent document from someone who tried to duplicate the check of Attorney’s trust account to access the funds. Bank advises Attorney that the current trust account should be closed, and that a new trust account should be opened with a different account number and with a different style of check. Attorney has outstanding checks payable to clients drawn on that trust account. What steps should Attorney take to ensure that this change of trust account is in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct?

Answer: Attorney should work together with Bank to ensure the security of the funds in the client trust account. One option may be to ensure that no checks can be drawn on the existing account without authorization from Attorney, and that only the outstanding checks payable to clients can be drawn on the existing trust account. With such safeguards in place, Attorney may leave funds in the existing trust account to pay the outstanding checks that have already been sent to clients. Another option is to move all funds in the existing client trust account to a new account, stop payment on the outstanding checks payable to clients, notify clients as to such, and reissue new checks payable to clients on the new client trust account. Other options may also be appropriate under the Rules of Professional Conduct, as determined by Attorney and in cooperation with the Bank. Regardless of the option taken to safeguard the funds in the client trust account and eliminate the threat, Attorney should ensure that there is appropriate record keeping pursuant to Rule 4-1.15(f), and that clients are not responsible for any service charges when trying to negotiate their outstanding checks. See Rule 4-1.15(b). Finally, Attorney should contact the Missouri Lawyer Trust Account Foundation to notify it of the change in the account and provide appropriate certification as to Attorney’s annual enrollment statement pursuant to Rule 4-1.15(h).

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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