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RULE 19-301.15. SAFEKEEPING PROPERTY (1.15)

West's Annotated Code of MarylandMaryland RulesEffective: December 1, 2019

West's Annotated Code of Maryland
Maryland Rules
Title 19. Attorneys
Chapter 300. Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct
Client-Attorney Relationship [Rules 19-301.1 to 19-301.18]
Effective: December 1, 2019
MD Rules Attorneys, Rule 19-301.15
RULE 19-301.15. SAFEKEEPING PROPERTY (1.15)
(a) An attorney shall hold property of clients or third persons that is in an attorney's possession in connection with a representation separate from the attorney's own property. Funds shall be kept in a separate account maintained pursuant to Title 19, Chapter 400 of the Maryland Rules, and records shall be created and maintained in accordance with the Rules in that Chapter. Other property shall be identified specifically as such and appropriately safeguarded, and records of its receipt and distribution shall be created and maintained. Complete records of the account funds and of other property shall be kept by the attorney and shall be preserved for a period of at least five years after the date the record was created.
(b) An attorney may deposit the attorney's own funds in a client trust account only as permitted by Rule 19-408 (b).
(c) Unless the client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing, to a different arrangement, an attorney shall deposit legal fees and expenses that have been paid in advance into a client trust account and may withdraw those funds for the attorney's own benefit only as fees are earned or expenses incurred.
(d) Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, an attorney shall promptly notify the client or third person. Except as stated in this Rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, an attorney shall deliver promptly to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third person, shall render promptly a full accounting regarding such property.
(e) When an attorney in the course of representing a client is in possession of property in which two or more persons (one of whom may be the attorney) claim interests, the property shall be kept separate by the attorney until the dispute is resolved. The attorney shall distribute promptly all portions of the property as to which the interests are not in dispute.
COMMENT
[1] A An attorney should hold property of others with the care required of a professional fiduciary. Securities should be kept in a safe deposit box, except when some other form of safekeeping is warranted by special circumstances. All property of clients or third persons, including prospective clients, must be kept separate from the attorney's business and personal property and, if money, in one or more trust accounts. Separate trust accounts may be warranted when administering estate money or acting in similar fiduciary capacities. An attorney should maintain on a current basis books and records in accordance with generally accepted accounting practice and the Rules in Title 19, Chapter 400 and comply with any other record-keeping rules established by law or court order.
[2] Normally it is impermissible to commingle the attorney's own funds with client funds, and section (b) of this Rule provides that it is permissible only as permitted by Rule 19-408 (b). Accurate records must be kept regarding which part of the funds are the attorney's.
[3] Section (c) of Rule 19-301.15 (1.15) permits advances against unearned fees and unincurred costs to be treated as either the property of the client or the property of the attorney. Unless the client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing, to a different arrangement, the Rule's default position is that such advances be treated as the property of the client, subject to the restrictions provided in section (a) of this Rule. In any case, at the termination of an engagement, advances against fees that have not been incurred must be returned to the client as provided in Rule 19-301.16 (d) (1.16).
[4] Attorneys often receive funds from which the attorney's fee will be paid. The attorney is not required to remit the client funds that the attorney reasonably believes represent fees owed. However, an attorney may not hold funds to coerce a client into accepting the attorney's contention. The disputed portion of the funds must be kept in a trust account and the attorney should suggest means for prompt resolution of the dispute, such as arbitration. The undisputed portion of the funds shall be distributed promptly.
[5] Section (e) of this Rule also recognizes that third parties may have lawful claims against specific funds or other property in a attorney's custody, such as a client's creditor who has a lien on funds recovered in a personal injury action. An attorney may have a duty under applicable law to protect such third-party claims against wrongful interference by the client. In such cases, when the third-party claim is not frivolous under applicable law, the attorney must refuse to surrender the funds or property to the client until the claims are resolved. An attorney should not unilaterally assume to arbitrate a dispute between the client and the third party, but, when there are substantial grounds for dispute as to the person entitled to the funds, the attorney may file an action to have a court resolve the dispute.
[6] The obligations of an attorney under this Rule are independent of those arising from activity other than rendering legal services. For example, an attorney who serves only as an escrow agent is governed by the applicable law relating to fiduciaries even though the attorney does not render legal services in the transaction and is not governed by this Rule.
Model Rules Comparison: Rule 19-301.15 (1.15) is substantially similar to the language of the Ethics 2000 Amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, with the exception of changes to Rule 19-301.15 (c) (1.15), the addition of Comment [3], and the omission of ABA Comment [6].

Credits

[Adopted June 6, 2016, eff. July 1, 2016.]
MD R Attorneys, Rule 19-301.15, MD R ATTORNEYS Rule 19-301.15
Current with amendments received through December 15, 2019.
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