Must-Haves for Law Firms: IOLTA and Branded Email
Sine Qua Non – If you’re a BattleStar Galactica fan, you know how this concept, ‘that without not’, can be a romantic ideal.
If you’re a lawyer, however, you’re probably more familiar with it being the worst sort of detail: the wanted nail that cost the battle.
This post deals two Sine Qua Nons for lawyers in solo and small practice face every day: the Lawyer Trust Account and a branded email account.
Lawyer Trust Account
Most states have adopted an IOLTA best practice guideline for small practitioners. To put it simply, I’ll quote from the California Bar, as their description of an IOLTA account puts it best:
“Lawyers who handle small amounts of money for their clients, or money that is held for a short period of time, must participate in the program by depositing these funds into an Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA). (When lawyers hold funds from one client that are large enough or held for a long enough period to earn interest for that client, the funds are segregated so that the client receives the interest.)”
That baseline flexibility of an IOLTA, where big deposits are segregated so as not to unjustly enrich and simultaneously deprive clients by virtue of their money residing in the same account is the solution to the problem of commingled funds, a problem that informs many of today’s regulations of lawyers.
So, there’s really no controversy here: you need to get an IOLTA set up to catch pre-paid fees and hold them for draw down as they’re earned. That includes modern ‘retainers’, which are essentially pre-paid legal fees. True retainers aren’t earned against, and may go directly into earned fees accounts.
Branded Email Accounts
While there’s no statute requiring a branded email account, I believe there should be. It’s just like, or even more so, an ideal heir of the lawyer’s stationery and letterhead. Just like many malpractice insurance agencies will require you to update them every time you change letterhead, a forward thinking agency should also require you to update them when you create a branded email account. This is for your own protection, quite honestly, as you wouldn’t want to have to provide access to every email you write from your personal account, nor would you want to have to operate from email@example.com forever.
Google has a wonderful google apps project which allows you to go ahead and make use of that URL from godaddy that you squatted a while back just to save until you learned how to use cold fusion and really make an awesome site. Now, you can start getting email at you@[yoururl].com instead of actually having to make a site first.
It’s quite simple, just go to google.com. Search for google apps. Click on custom Gmail, and follow the directions. It took a little bit of familiarity with godaddy to make it work for me. But I’m now findable at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email me if you get it working!
Brian Lewis (http://www.brianjosephlewis.com) is an attorney and journalist, currently practicing in Mid-Missouri. He holds a J.D. from NYU School of Law and a B.A. from Yale. He enjoys cooking, researching developing legal systems and has been spotted at amateur comedy nights from time to time.