Inside Track: Ethical dilemmas: Client whereabouts unknown – what to do with trust account funds:

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    Feb. 16, 2011 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. Issues relating to client files, prospective clients, conflicts, trust accounts, confidentiality, tribunals, communication with opposing parties, reporting professional misconduct and advertising arise more frequently than others. This is series of questions and answers appear each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.

    Question

    I represented a client in a small claims matter that resulted in a settlement of a few hundred dollars. The first settlement check was NSF, and it took a few weeks to get the other side to cough up another check. I deposited the money in my checking account and tried to contact my client, but her phone was disconnected. I wrote two letters and received no response to the first and the second was returned because she had moved and left no forwarding address. I waited to see if she would contact me. I now have $600 in my trust account and don’t know where the client is – the last contact I had with the client was more than one year ago. What do I do with the money?

    Answer

    The lawyer must make reasonable efforts to locate the client, but eventually the funds will be considered abandoned and taken over by the Unclaimed Property Office of the State Treasurer. Call (877) 699-9211 to contact the Unclaimed Property Office.

    References: SCR 20:1.15; Wis. Stat. Chap. 177, www.statetreasury.wisconsin.gov.

    Previous questions:

    For more information, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.




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