Need ethics help? ISBA members can call the ISBA Ethics Infoline at 217.747.1452.
The isba-ethics email list is open to discussions about ARDC rules and procedures, cases, bar regulation, professionalism, and related topics.
What should I do with unidentified funds in IOLTA account?
Q. I have recently discovered some unidentified funds in my IOLTA account. What do I do with those?
A. IRPC 1.15 was recently amended to address this issue. 1.15(h)(4)(i) states that a lawyer who learns of unidentified funds in an IOLTA account “must make periodic efforts to identify and return the funds to the rightful owner. If after 12 months of the discovery of the unidentified funds the lawyer determines that ascertaining the ownership or securing the return of the funds will not succeed, the lawyer must remit the funds to the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. No charge of ethical impropriety or other breach of professional conduct shall attend to a lawyer’s exercise of reasonable judgment under this paragraph (i). A lawyer who either remits funds in error or later ascertains the ownership of remitted funds may make a claim to the Lawyers Trust Fund, which after verification of the claim will return the funds to the lawyer.” For further discussion, see ISBA Advisory Opinion 15-02
These questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline. The information provided above is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed. The information provided isn’t legal advice. Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.
A federal district court in New York has ruled that New York's Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 prohibiting nonlawyer ownership of law firms does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments or the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. New York's Rule 5.4 is substantially similar to Illinois'. Aside from the Constitutional arguments, plaintiffs argued that the infusion of capital from nonlawyer investors was required in order to maintain their commitment to providing low cost legal services to the economically challenged. In a sharply worded opinion, the Court rejected Plaintiffs' arguments on a number of factual and legal grounds as well as recognizing New York's "significant interest in assuring and maintaining high standards of conduct of attorneys engaged in practice."
Read the opinion.