Informal Opinion Number: 2023-09

Adoption Date: July 27, 2023

Rules: 4-1.15; 4-1.6
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Trust Accounts and Property of Others; Confidentiality of Information
Subject: Trust Accounts and Safekeeping Property
Summary: lawyers may not use third-party payment programs where advanced paid legal fees or expenses are not deposited directly in a client trust account

Question: May Lawyer accept payment from a client through a third-party online payment program that holds the funds outside of a client trust account?

Answer: Rule 4-1.15(a) requires that a lawyer hold property of client’s or third persons that is in the lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation in a client trust account that is either an IOLTA account, non-IOLTA account, or exempt trust account. If a third-party online payment program holds funds belonging to a client or third party, such as advance paid fees or expenses, use of such platform is not permitted unless the funds constitute an advance paid flat fee that does not exceed $2,000 which may be deposited into another account per Rule 4-1.15(c). See Missouri Informal Opinions 2018-10 and 2018-05.

Even if Lawyer is collecting funds meeting the exception of 4-1.15(c), an advance paid flat fee that does not exceed $2,000, or is collecting earned fees, the lawyer must still fully consider the terms of use of such program to ensure that client confidentiality is maintained in accordance with Rule 4-1.6. See Rule 4-1.6, Comments [15] and [16]; Rule 4-1.1, Comment [8]; and Missouri Informal Opinions 2021-03, 2018-10, and 2018-09.

If Lawyer uses a third-party online payment provider that will allow client or third-party funds to be deposited directly into a client trust account, and ensures client confidentiality, Lawyer should handle such payments akin to the proper procedure for credit card transactions explained in Missouri Informal Opinions 2014-05, 2019-05, and 2020-22, and maintain appropriate records in accordance with Rule 4-1.15(f).



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: lawyers/requesting-an-informal-advisory-opinion/.

© Copyright 2024