Managing Trust Accounts – Will It Jeoparize Your Legal Career?

by Ed Williams on September 15, 2012

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Career buster? Very possibly.

While working as a paralegal in the area of Professional Regulation, I was well aware of how the Florida Bar views an attorney’s mismanagement of a client’s trust account (whether intentional or not). During my tenure in this practice area, my attorney and I worked with several attorneys whose license to practice was on the line. Some were just plain ignorant of bar rules and others blatantly utilized the clients’ funds for varying purposes.

InFlorida, when an attorney fills out his CLE statement and forwards the same to the bar inTallahassee, he is attesting to the fact that his or her trust accounts are in order. Very few attorneys that I have spoken to regarding this understood clearly what they were executing. The Florida Bar, however, takes this attestation very seriously and expects each and every attorney to understand and abide by the rules.

Please understand that all it takes for the bar to demand an audit of your law firm is a single complaint from a client. Seriously. If you have been co-mingling trust account funds with the funds of your Operating Account, your bar license could be revoked – permanently. InFlorida, the bar enlists the aid of a professional management firm (LOMAS) who has years of experience in auditing law firms. They know what to look for.

LOMAS is quite adept at spotting not only trust account issues but whether or not your files are opened and closed properly and much, much more.

Now, a word of warning to all legal office personnel:

Are you currently responsible for managing your law firm’s trust accounts? Perhaps you work for a sole practitioner who requires this of you. Have you attended trust account management classes through your local bar? If not, why not?

If you’re currently managing your law firm’s trust accounts and the funds have been mismanaged somehow or co-mingled with the operating account, do you feel protected because you are under the supervision of your attorney?

Think again.

In a recent issue of the ABA Journal, it was reported that aFloridaattorney had not only mismanaged her clients’ funds, but had neglected to set up trust accounts to manage the same. She has already lost herFloridabar license and is also facing felony charges which would amount to her serving approximately 40 years in prison.

What’s even more surprising is that her paralegal is facing the same charges.

At the moment, the attorney and the paralegal are playing the “blame game” and all the facts of the case are still coming to light.

As a legal staffer, it is important that you understand the responsibility you are undertaking in managing your law firm’s trust accounts and/or operating accounts. Before you consider accepting this responsibility, your attorney should agree to and paying for your attendance at one of your state bar’s seminars on trust accounting.

There is no excuse for ignorance. Simply “do your homework” before agreeing to perform tasks that might place a big black mark on your career.

 

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