The State Bar of California is launching a voluntary survey of its members to help ensure that lawyers are meeting their ethical obligations when it comes to handling client funds.
The anonymous online survey, approved last month by the Board of Trustees, will increase awareness of client trust accounting rules and serve as an educational tool. In addition, staff will analyze the survey results to make decisions about future educational and regulatory efforts.
“The bar should be proactive in carrying out its public protection mission,• State Bar President Craig Holden said. “By making sure attorneys are up on trust accounting rules, we can prevent harm to consumers as well as help attorneys avoid contact with the discipline system.”
Attorneys who hold money or property on behalf of clients must follow accounting rules to ensure that they know exactly how much of the money they are holding for clients belongs to each individual client.
Client trust accounting violations have long represented one of the primary areas of concern for the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, the bar’s prosecution unit, Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim said. The office receives complaints about client trust account violations from a number of sources, including clients and financial institutions, which are required to report any bounced checks against an attorney’s client trust account. Banks alone submitted 2,228 such reports in 2014, according to the Annual Discipline Report.
Holden urges attorneys, particularly those who deal with client trust accounts, to respond to the survey. Even those who believe they are following the rules can benefit from taking the survey without fear of discipline, he said.
Participants will also receive a coupon, valid through the end of the year, for a $10 discount on any item in the State Bar online CLE catalog.
The survey was a joint project of staff from various State Bar departments coordinated by the State Bar’s Office of Professional Competence. The survey contains questions about longstanding record keeping requirements, information about common issues in trust accounting and links to educational resources such as the bar’s online trust accounting handbook.
Bar staff indicated that the survey results will greatly influence future work on enhanced client trust accounting resources. In anticipation of these enhancements, staff unveiled a new State Bar web page. The new page is dedicated to client trust accounting resources and includes links to relevant rules and statutes, publications, forms, ethics opinions and online videos.
The survey, at http://bit.lylclasurvey2015, will remain active through July 31 on the State Bar’s’ home page and Ethics information page