What Should I Do With Unidentified Funds in My Trust Account?

unidentified-moneyThe Louisiana Supreme Court amended Rule 1.15 in March 2016 to address this issue. The answer: “A lawyer who learns of Unidentified Funds in an IOLTA account must remit the funds to the Louisiana Bar Foundation.” See Order Amending Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 (signed and effective March 23, 2016). The rule defines “Unidentified Funds” as:

[F]unds on deposit in an IOLTA account for at least one year that after reasonable due diligence cannot be documented as belonging to a client, a third person, or the lawyer or law firm.

Id. The rule prohibits ODC from charging a lawyer with committing professional misconduct for the “exercise of reasonable judgment” under this provision. Finally, if a lawyer remits funds in error or later identifies the owner of remitted funds, the lawyer “may make a claim to the Louisiana Bar Foundation, which after verification of the claim will return the funds to the lawyer.” See id.

What if a lawyer can source trust monies to a specific client but can’t find the client? At the very least, the lawyer should make reasonable efforts to locate the client. If those efforts are fruitless after approximately five years, the lawyer should consult the Louisiana Department of the Treasury, Unclaimed Property Division. Additional guidance is available on the LSBA website in a public opinion by the association’s Ethics Advisory Service: LSBA Public Opinion 06-RPCC-009.