“Mixed” Trust Accounts Don’t Keep U.S. Tidy…
The internet provides valuable information about Trust Accounts and Trust Accounting. The work to keep the books straight and tidy in your law practice is admirable, so I thought I would help clarify something that could throw a serious wrench into your record keeping effort.
In Canada, there is such a thing as a "Mixed Trust Account." In the United States though, an attorney's office must keep a "Trust Account" or "General Trust Account." So… don't get, shall I say…mixed up!
According to the Bookkeeping Guide for Lawyers, by The Law Society of Ontario, "The most common type of trust account in a law office is called a "mixed" or "pooled" trust account. These trust accounts are any accounts that hold money for more than one client." These types of accounts create an interest-earning scenario and require Canadian attorneys to pay the interest directly to a law foundation.
For U.S. based...
Law firm accounting and Trust Accounting, here’s what you need to know:
- Don’t “mix” funds. Keep personal funds and trust funds separate.
- Keep a separate ledger for each client.
- You may keep a trust account per client, or a general trust account for client(s) trust funds. (Should your state allow for this -- always check with your local Bar Association)
- No, lawyers don’t get to keep the interest earned on trust funds in the U.S. either. The interest goes to impoverished individuals/families for civil legal services (IOLTA), or back to the client - depending on the amount earned. Check out IOLTAs and Client Trust Accounts by the American Bar Association.
- Look to your specific state laws regarding trust accounts. Each state can have a different set of rules, or set of rights to enforce them.
How is this much different than Canada?
It's not. However, the words "Mixed" and "Pooled" sound an awful lot like commingling to me. Not good. To be clear: you should never mix, pool, or commingle your law firm revenue with your client trust monies. You can get into big trouble for that. You can lose your license to practice law.
Need help keeping it straight and tidy? Artesani Bookkeeping has your best practices covered in law firm accounting.
Want to learn more about law firm accounting and the best apps for working with attorneys? See this post for my attorney workflow.