I. CLIENT-LAWYER RELATIONSHIP
Rule 1.14 Safekeeping Property
(a) A lawyer shall hold funds and other property belonging in whole or in part to clients or third persons that are in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. Such funds shall be kept in a separate account, designated as a "trust" or "escrow" account, maintained in the state where the lawyer's office is situated, or elsewhere with the consent of the client or third person . Other client property shall be identified as such and appropriately safeguarded. Complete records of such account funds and other property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation.
(b) Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, a lawyer shall promptly notify the client or third person. Except as stated in this Rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third person, shall promptly render a full accounting regarding such property.
(c) When in the course of representation a lawyer is in possession of funds or other property in which both the lawyer and another person claim interests, the property shall be kept separate by the lawyer until there is an accounting and severance of their interest. All funds in a trust or escrow account shall be disbursed only to those persons entitled to receive them by virtue of the representation or by law. If a dispute arises concerning their respective interests, the portion in dispute shall be kept separate by the lawyer until the dispute is resolved, and the undisputed portion shall be distributed appropriately.
Comment - Rule 1.14
1. A lawyer should hold property of others with the care required of a professional fiduciary. Securities should be kept in a safe deposit box, except when some other form of safekeeping is warranted by special circumstances. All property which is the property of clients or third persons should be kept separate from the lawyer's business and personal property and, if monies, in one or more trust accounts. Separate trust accounts may be warranted when administering estate monies or acting in similar fiduciary capacities. Paragraph (a) requires that complete records of the funds and other property be maintained.
2. Lawyers often receive funds from third parties from which the lawyer's fee will be paid. These funds should be deposited into a lawyer's trust account. If there is risk that the client may divert the funds without paying the fee, the lawyer is not required to remit the portion from which the fee is to be paid. However, a lawyer may not hold funds to coerce a client into accepting the lawyer's contention. The disputed portion of the funds should be kept in trust and the lawyer should suggest means for prompt resolution of the dispute, such as arbitration. The undisputed portion of the funds should be promptly distributed to those entitled to receive them by virtue of the representation. A lawyer should not use even that portion of trust account funds due to the lawyer to make direct payment to general creditors of the lawyer of the lawyer's firm, because such a course of dealing increases the risk that all the assets of that account will be viewed as the lawyer's property rather than that of clients, and thus as available to satisfy the claims of such creditors. When a lawyer receives from a client monies that constitute a prepayment of a fee and that belongs to the client until the services are rendered, the lawyer should handle the fund in accordance with paragraph (c). After advising the client that the service has been rendered and the fee earned, and in the absence of a dispute, the lawyer may withdraw the fund from the separate account. Paragraph (c) does not prohibit participation in an IOLTA or similar program.
3. Third parties, such as a client's creditors, may have just claims against funds or other property in a lawyer's custody. A lawyer may have a duty under applicable law to protect such third-party claims against wrongful interference by the client, and accordingly may refuse to surrender the property to the client. However, a lawyer should not unilaterally assume to arbitrate a dispute between the client and the third party.
4. The obligations of a lawyer under this Rule are independent of those arising from activity other than rendering legal service. For example, a lawyer who serves as an escrow agent is governed by the applicable law relating to fiduciaries even though the lawyer does not render legal services in the transaction.
5. The "client's security fund" in Texas provides a means through the collective efforts of the bar to reimburse persons who have lost money or property as a result of dishonest conduct of a lawyer.