Depending on the case involved, a California attorney may hold some of the assets or property of a client for a period of time. According to the American Bar Association, the kind of care an attorney should exercise when holding the assets of a client should be consistent with how a professional fiduciary would perform. A failure on the part of an attorney to demonstrate this care may qualify as legal malpractice.
One such instance of malpractice is commingling. Attorneys should take care not to mix assets of other parties with their own. This means that any property and assets owned by a client should not be joined with the business or personal assets owned by the attorney. If the attorney has possession of securities, these should be maintained someplace secure like a safe deposit box. Some attorneys maintain a client’s money in a separate trust account.
Attorneys should also keep up books and any records that are required to maintain proper accounting of the assets. Such accounting should be performed according to accounting practices that are widely accepted as practical or required by the law. Also, in some cases a judge may hand down specific rules that govern how the books are to be maintained.
Sometimes an attorney will receive funds from a client, some of which will be used to pay the attorney’s fees. There is no necessity to return funds that will pay the attorney as agreed upon by the client and counsel. However, in the event an attorney and a client disagree on a matter, the attorney should not try to withhold funds or assets to force the client to accept the argument of the attorney. In such cases, the attorney should seek a way for the dispute to be settled, such as going through an arbitrator.
Disputes between clients and attorneys over assets may take many different forms. Because of this fact, you should only consider this article as general information. Do not read it for legal advice.