Because of the trust that clients place in their attorneys, attorneys must maintain a high ethical standard. Attorneys that fail to uphold the Rules of Professional Conduct can cause serious harm to their clients. Misconduct can take many different forms, including financial misconduct.
What is commingling?
When attorneys handle clients’ money, they must manage those funds with the highest possible standard of care. However, if an attorney allows their funds to mix with the client’s funds, they have committed a serious breach of that duty.
What forms can commingling take?
Because it can occur any time an attorney does not properly separate their funds from the accounts of their client, ward or beneficiary, “commingling” can take many different forms.
While an attorney will eventually receive legal fees from their clients, they must never own filing fees related to a client’s case. Because of this, legal fees and filing fees must remain in different accounts. Lawyers must also maintain a separation between their accounts — both business and professional — and a trust that holds client money.
Attorneys also have the responsibility to keep a detailed ledger of how they have handled their client’s money. This comprehensive record helps illustrate to clients how their lawyer used their money, when they received settlements and other details. As the American Bar association notes, record-keeping is especially important when commingling may be permitted, as when an attorney pays bank service charges.
Have you been the victim of commingling?
It is a severe ethical violation for an attorney to misuse your funds. If a lawyer has mishandled your funds, you may take legal action against them to right the wrong you experienced because of their malpractice.