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,
www.tbpr.org/attorneys/EthicsOpinions. They are searchable by word, phrase or opinion number.