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HomeRule Nine

Rule Nine: Safekeeping Property

(a) A paralegal may handle the property of clients or third persons that is in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation only under the supervision and direction of the lawyer.

(b) A paralegal who handles the property of clients or third persons shall read and comply with the requirements of Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and shall not take such action or knowingly assist the lawyer in taking any action that would be considered a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or the lawyer's ethical duties.

Commentary

Safekeeping of client property is a significant responsibility of the attorney, and, as such, the attorney is given specific rules detailing the proper way to handle client money. See Rule 1.15 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Case law is replete with examples of attorneys being found to have commingled and converted client property because they have failed to properly identify, segregate, and account for that property. See e.g., In re Clayter, 78 Ill.2d. 276, 399 N.E. 2d 1318 (1980); etc.

As this rule makes clear, paralegals may properly assist the attorney in handling client property. Assistance provided by paralegals may help an attorney handling client property to safeguard the identity of that property as the client's. Therefore, paralegals may be made signatories on office accounts established as client trust fund accounts. Paralegals who find themselves assisting with management of client trust fund accounts would be wise to consult Client Trust Account Handbook: A Guide to Creating and Maintaining Client Trust Accounts for Illinois Attorneys, a publication of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Paralegals should never forget, however, that their supervising attorney is ultimately responsible for monitoring their work with client trust accounts and, therefore, paralegals should not hesitate to turn to supervising attorneys for answers to problems that arise during the course of maintaining a client trust account. See In Re Vrdolyak, 137 Ill 2d. 407, 560 N.E. 2d 840 (1990), for a discussion of an attorney's failure to properly monitor the work of nonlawyer staff handling client trust accounts