SJC grants delay of Rule 1.15 implementation

Issue January 2004

The Supreme Judicial Court on Dec. 5 agreed to an MBA request and will grant a six-month extension in the implementation of Revised Rule 1.15 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct governing the safekeeping of client property.

The amended rule, which provides very detailed and specific methods by which attorneys would be required to maintain records relating to client fund accounts and subjects them to the possibility of discipline for failing to do so, was to take effect on Jan.1, 2004.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed to delay implementation of the rule until July 1, 2004.

In a Nov. 17 letter to Christine Burak, Esq., Secretary of the Rules Committee of the Supreme Judicial Court, MBA President Richard C. Van Nostrand recommended that, "Revised Rule 1.15 should be phased in over a period of one year before becoming fully effective. This will allow for a significant period of education of attorneys and implementation of any accompanying accounting changes that are necessitated by its dictates.

"We believe that despite the recent publicity efforts of Bar Counsel and others, including the MBA, the substantially revised provisions of Rule 1.15 are not widely known and will require a significant length of time for members of the bar to become familiar with the changes and to effectively adjust their internal accounting operations accordingly," Van Nostrand wrote.

In response to the SCJ decision to delay implementation for six months, Van Nostrand said, "While the court did not give us the entire period that we requested, this extra six months should provide some valuable additional time for systems to be implemented and 'debugged' by attorneys before the potential for sanctions come into play.

"The court's decision to delay implementation will give attorneys the much-needed time to comply with Revised Rule 1.15 while ensuring that the rule's underlying principles of safeguarding client property are fully integrated into their bookkeeping practices," Van Nostrand said.

The changes to Revised Rule 1.15 are examined in detail in the new MBA publication "Fees & Client Funds (Third Edition)" and will be the subject of a panel discussion on Friday, Jan. 23, 2004, during the association's Annual Conference 2004 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.