Lawyers owe fiduciary duties to their clients. In the attorney-client relationship, these fiduciary duties are what help foster a sense of trust between client and lawyer. Despite lawyers’ ethical obligation to represent the best interests of their clients, many lawyers breach their fiduciary duties to their clients all too frequently. When lawyers breach their fiduciary duties, it can serve as the basis for a legal malpractice lawsuit. Legal malpractice can result from mishandling client funds.
A Lawyer’s Duty of Safekeeping Property
One of the most important fiduciary duties owed by a lawyer to his or her client is a duty of safekeeping property on behalf of the client. Under Rule 1.15 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers owe their clients a duty of safekeeping property that is entrusted to them by the client. Client funds are included under this duty. Accordingly, a lawyer has the following ethical obligations to clients:
- A duty to notify the client when relevant funds come into his or her possession.
- Responsibility to segregate the client’s funds from his or her own property.
- Obligation to maintain complete and accurate records regarding the funds.
- A duty to provide the client with an accounting when the client requests one.
- Obligation to promptly pay or deliver the client’s funds, as per the client’s instructions.
- A duty to preserve the integrity of the funds.
Still, the mishandling of a client’s funds is one of the most frequently cited breaches of a lawyer’s fiduciary duties in legal malpractice lawsuits.
Examples of Attorneys Mishandling Funds
When a lawyer mishandles a client’s funds, it is a clear breach of the lawyer’s duty to safeguard the client’s property. Further, the mishandling of funds can take many forms. Some of the most common examples of mishandled client funds include situations in which:
- Lawyers combine a client’s funds with their own.
- Attorneys fail to store a client’s funds in a designated trust account.
- Lawyers misappropriate or “borrow” funds from a client’s account.
- Attorneys steal a client’s funds.
- Lawyers use a client’s funds for a purpose other than their intended purpose.
- Attorneys act carelessly with a client’s funds.
- Lawyers fail to maintain accurate or complete records.
If your lawyer has engaged in conduct like that discussed above, you may have grounds for a legal malpractice claim. It could be possible for you to recover your lost funds.
When You Need a Legal Malpractice Lawyer
If you are concerned that your lawyer has mishandled your funds or other property that you entrusted to him or her, you may have a legal malpractice claim. You should be able to trust your lawyer, especially with your funds. When a lawyer is careless or deliberately misuses or mishandles your funds, you should speak with a legal malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. The Patterson Law Firm may be able to help you with your legal malpractice claim. Contact us today.