Rule of the Road No. 8: A trial lawyer must never “borrow” from a trust account.
Fortunately, the problem of lawyers taking clients’ money from trust accounts isn’t very common. However, any lawyer who has been practicing more than ten years probably can recall a respected lawyer who was disbarred or indicted for taking a client’s money. Most lawyers cannot imagine that they would be tempted to take money from a client but sadly it still happens.
Disciplinary prosecutors across the country will tell you that they routinely see the following tragic pattern: a lawyer feels pressured to pay the mortgage or to make payroll, the money is “just sitting there,” and the lawyer “knows” that another client is about to pay a large invoice in the next few weeks or the lawyer “knows” that a contingent fee case is about to settle, but the mortgage payment or payroll is due today. The temptation is too much and the lawyer takes money from a client’s trust account – with the intent of paying back the money.
Don’t do it! Ever! It’s stealing. If you take a client’s money, eventually you will almost always be caught. Even if you get away with it and replace the money, you will regret that act every day for the rest of your career.
It’s better to lose your home, to lay off employees or to file bankruptcy than lose your law license, your freedom or your reputation. You are a fiduciary. Act like it.