Ethics Committee Formal Opinion #1988/9-16

Fee Arrangements:  Union Charge for Case Settlement Services – Workers’ Compensation

May 11, 1989


An attorney is obligated to make a diligent effort to locate and notify a client whose whereabouts is unknown, that the attorney is holding the client’s funds.  (Rule 1.15; Rule 1.15(b)).

While attempting to locate a client, the attorney must hold the client’s funds in a clearly designated trust account, and maintain complete records of the funds.  (Rule 1.15; Rule 1.15(a)).

Even after the lawyer is satisfied that he or she has made a diligent effort to locate the client, but that the client cannot be found, the lawyer is obligated in a fiduciary’s capacity to continue to safeguard the client’s funds until the statutory time period for the abandoned property statute expires.  (Rule 1.15).


The inquiring attorney represented an out-of-state resident before a Federal Grand Jury.  Prior to representing the client, the attorney accepted a retainer to be applied toward his hourly rate charges.  He successfully represented the client, and at the conclusion of the matter sought to return to the client the unused portion of the funds remaining in the trust account.  At that time, he found that the client had moved and he is presently unable to locate her.  The attorney wants to know what should be done with funds belonging to a client who cannot be located.

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