Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion implementing amended Florida Bar trust account rules which, inter alia, will require law firms with more than one lawyer to have written trust account plans with names of lawyers who sign and approve trust checks and supervise compliance with the Florida Bar’s trust account rules. The opinion is: In Re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar Biennial Report), No. SC12-2234 (March 27, 2014) and the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion is at: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc12-2234.pdf
The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors approved the amendment to Rule 5-1.2(c) and it was part of a biennial package of amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar which was implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in its opinion dated March 27, 2014. The amended rules become effective June 1, 2014.
Rule 5-1.2(c) will now require a written trust account plan for each of a (multi-lawyer) law firm’s trust accounts which must be provided to each lawyer in the firm. According to the amended rule, the written plan must include the names of all lawyers who sign trust account checks for the law firm and review trust account checks, the names of the lawyers who are responsible for supervising and reconciling the law firm’s trust account or accounts, monthly and annually, and the names of the lawyers who are responsible for answering any questions that lawyers in the firm may have about the firm’s trust account or accounts.
In a small law firm, a single lawyer may be responsible for all these functions, or in a large firm these tasks may be handled by a law firm manager or CPA; however, non-lawyers must always be supervised by a lawyer. A law firm’s trust account plan should also specifically name the lawyer or lawyers who are ultimately responsible for the firm’s plan or any part of it.
The responsible lawyers must be shareholders, partners, or owners of the law firm. If a non-lawyer staff member is responsible for filling out a check or is authorized by the supervising partner to sign it before a lawyer reviews it, or if a CPA or office manager prepares the initial reconciliation of the trust account(s), that person’s title should be included in the plan along with the name of the lawyer who reviews that staff member or accountant’s actions and approves them.
Some examples of written trust account plans for both small law firms and large law firms are provided on the Bar’s website here: http://www.floridabar.org/
The amended rule also requires that the written trust account plan be updated and redistributed to each lawyer in the firm whenever there are material changes to the plan, including changes in the lawyer or lawyers who will be signing or reviewing all trust account checks and are responsible for supervising reconciliation of the firm’s trust account or accounts.
The amended rule states that an individual “may” notify the managing partner or shareholder of discrepancies to address the possibility that a lawyer may learn that the managing partner or another lawyer responsible for the firm’s trust accounts is misappropriating or otherwise mishandling funds. The rule states that if lawyer with personal knowledge learns that the noncompliance has not been corrected within a reasonable time, the lawyer must report the trust account noncompliance to staff counsel for the Bar if such a report is required by Rule 4-8.3, which requires a lawyer to report misconduct which “raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects…”
Bottom line: This is a significant change to the Florida Bar Rules Regulating Trust Accounts and affects every law firm except sole practitioners. Lawyers must be aware of and comply with the new rules or risk prosecution by the Bar. The revised rules become effective on June 1, 2014.
Let’s be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670