Trust Accounting for Small Sums
Opinion rules that an attorney who receives from his or her client a small sum of money which is to be used to pay the cost of recording a deed must deposit that money in a trust account.
Attorney A is employed to draft a deed for Client B who wishes to give a parcel of real property to a relative. It is contemplated that Attorney A will, in addition to drawing the deed, preside over its execution and see that it is properly recorded. Client B is expected to pay a relatively small legal fee along with the cost of recordation at the time the deed is executed. For reasons of cost and convenience, Attorney A would like to ask his client for a single check representing the fee and the cost of recordation and would prefer to deposit that check in his general office account. From that account a single check would be written to the Register of Deeds for the cost of recordation.
Would the procedure described above violate the Rules of Professional Conduct? If so, is there any professionally responsible way of handling such transactions which would not involve an intermediate deposit in the trust account and the necessity of writing multiple checks?
Rules 10.1(a) and (c) quite clearly require a lawyer to deposit into his or her trust account all funds received as a fiduciary. This obligation is not in any way diminished when the sum involved is small. Strict segregation of client funds from the personal funds of the lawyer is always necessary to preclude confusion as to the identity of the funds and to ensure that trust funds are not subject to the claims of the lawyer's creditors or to those of his or her estate.
It should be noted that Rule 10.1(c) further provides that funds received from the client by the lawyer as reimbursement for expenses properly advanced by the lawyer on behalf of the client need not be deposited in the lawyer's trust account. A lawyer handling such transactions could therefore advance funds from his or her general account to pay the cost of recordation and could accept from the client a single check for the legal fee and the advanced expenses and the check could then be deposited directly and finally into the lawyer's general office account.