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Rule 1.15A. General Duties of Lawyers Regarding Property of Clients and Third Parties

RULE CHANGE 2014(07)
Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 1.15

Repeal and Readoption

 

Rule 1.15A. General Duties of Lawyers Regarding Property of Clients and Third Parties

 

(a)         A lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons that is in the lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. Funds shall be kept in trust accounts maintained in compliance with Rule 1.15B. Other property shall be appropriately safeguarded. Complete records of such funds and other property of clients or third parties shall be kept by the lawyer in compliance with Rule 1.15D.

(b)         Upon receiving funds or other property of a client or third person, a lawyer shall, promptly or otherwise as permitted by law or by agreement with the client or third person, deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, promptly upon request by the client or third person, render a full accounting regarding such property.

(c)         When in connection with a representation a lawyer is in possession of property in which two or more persons (one of whom may be the lawyer) claim interests, the property shall be kept separate by the lawyer until there is a resolution of the claims and, when necessary, a severance of their interests. If a dispute arises concerning their respective interests, the portion in dispute shall be kept separate by the lawyer until the dispute is resolved. The lawyer shall promptly distribute all portions of the property as to which the interests are not in dispute.

(d)        The provisions of Rule 1.15B, Rule 1.15C, Rule 1.15D, and Rule 1.15E apply to funds and other property, and to accounts, held or maintained by the lawyer, or caused by the lawyer to be held or maintained by a law firm through which the lawyer renders legal services, in connection with a representation.

 

COMMENT

 

Note: The following six comments are applicable to this Rule 1.15A and to Rule 1.15B, Rule 1.15C, Rule 1.15D, and Rule 1.15E.

 

[1]         Trust accounts containing funds of clients or third persons held in connection with a representation must be interest-bearing or dividend-paying for the benefit of the clients or third persons or, if the funds are nominal in amount or expected to be held for a short period of time, for the benefit of the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation (“COLTAF”). A lawyer should exercise good faith judgment in determining initially whether funds are of such nominal amount or are expected to be held by the lawyer for such a short period of time that the funds should not be placed in an interest-bearing account for the benefit of the client or third person. The lawyer should also consider such other factors as (i) the costs of establishing and maintaining the account, service charges, accounting fees, and tax report procedures; (ii) the nature of the transaction(s) involved; and (iii) the likelihood of delay in the relevant proceedings. A lawyer should review at reasonable intervals whether changed circumstances require further action respecting the deposit of such funds, including without limitation the action described in paragraph 1.15B(i).

[2]         If a lawyer or law firm participates in Interest on Lawyer Trust Account ("IOLTA") programs in more than one jurisdiction, including Colorado, IOLTA funds that the lawyer or law firm holds in connection with the practice of law in Colorado should be held in the lawyer or law firm's COLTAF account (as defined in Rule 1.15B(2)(b)). The lawyer or law firm should exercise good faith judgment in determining which IOLTA funds it holds in connection with the practice of law in Colorado.

[3]         Lawyers often receive funds from third parties from which the lawyer's fee will be paid. If there is risk that the client may divert 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. 

[4]         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.

[5]         The obligations of a lawyer under this Rule are independent of those arising from activity other than rendering legal services. 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. See Rule 1.16(d) for standards applicable to retention of client papers. 

[6]         The duty to keep separate from the lawyer's own property any property in which any other person claims an interest exists whether or not there is a dispute as to ownership of the property. Likewise, although the second sentence of Rule 1.15A(c) deals specifically with disputed ownership, the first sentence of that provision applies even if there is no dispute as to ownership.

 

Repealed and Readopted by the Court, En Banc, June 17, 2014, effective immediately.

 

By the Court:

Nathan B. Coats
Justice, Colorado Supreme Court
Monica M. Márquez
Justice, Colorado Supreme Court