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Ethics Spotlight

By Laura Chastain

Do you know what your ethical obligations are if you are served a subpoena from a law enforcement agency for your trust account records?

This question arises more frequently than one would think. The Board of Professional Responsibility considered this question in Formal Ethics Opinion 81-F-20 which opinion is still valid today.

In Formal Opinion 81-F-20, an attorney had been notified that the bank which holds the law firm’s trust account had been served with a subpoena by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for the attorney’s trust account records for more than a year. The TBI who was investigating transactions of one of the attorney’s clients had obtained a release of the information from the client who was the subject of the investigation.

However, the TBI had not obtained releases from other clients whose information is also part of the subpoenaed records.

Formal Ethics Opinion 81-F-20 declares that “The attorney is ethically obligated to resist disclosing confidential information relating to clients not involved in the TBI investigation, and to invoke all available legal remedies against such disclosure.”

The entire text of Formal Ethics Opinion 81-F-20 may be found here.

The Board’s Formal Ethics Opinions are available on-line at the Board’s web site, They are searchable by word, phrase or opinion number.

Inside Board Notes
Disciplinary Actions - By William W. "Tripp" hunt, III
Ethics Opinion Spotlight - By Laura Chastain
Ethics Workshop - By Sandy Garrett

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