Frequently Asked Questions
Your paramount ethical obligation is to the client. When selling a practice, the seller needs to give written notice to each client. RPC 1.17(c). This is to protect the client’s right to retain other counsel or take possession of the file if the client chooses not to proceed with the new lawyer. See Practice Transitions — Ending Your Practice.
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As far as is reasonably possible, a lawyer is obligated to take steps to maintain a normal lawyer-client relationship even if a client’s capacity to make adequately informed decisions is diminished. RPC 1.14(a).
When the lawyer believes that because of diminished capacity the client is at risk of substantial physical, financial, or other harm unless action is taken, then the lawyer is permitted to take reasonably necessary protective action. RPC 1.14(b). What protective action is reasonably necessary depends on the circumstances.
Comment  to RPC 1.14 provides guidance in this regard:
Unclaimed funds result from either a balance left in the trust account for a client a lawyer can no longer locate or from outstanding checks that the lawyer is unable to reissue. Any unclaimed trust account funds must be handled according to the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, RCW 63.29 . The Act requires that funds be remitted to the Department of Revenue Unclaimed Property Division within three years of when the funds were issued or had a last activity date. See also the WSBA-published booklet Managing Client Trust Accounts (page 25).
There are three situations when a lawyer is required to report to the Bar the lawyer’s own conduct:
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Under APR 19(e)(5), no information relating to an ethics inquiry to Professional Responsibility Counsel, including the fact that a lawyer made an inquiry, the content of the lawyer’s inquiry, or Professional Responsibility Counsel’s response to the lawyer’s inquiry may be used in response to any grievance filed against the lawyer or complaint under the ELC. Likewise, this information is not admissible in any proceedings under the ELC.
Lawyers can give their clients gifts, subject to some qualifications. Except for expenses of litigation, a lawyer shall not “advance or guarantee financial assistance to a client” if there is contemplated or pending litigation. RPC 1.8(e). The reason for this is that making loans to clients could give lawyers too much of a financial stake in the litigation. Lawyers can’t make loans to their client if there is possible litigation, but they are free to make “a bona fide gift with true donative intent.” See Washington Advisory Opinions 1959 and 1523. Keep in mind that gifts cannot be given in payment for a client referral. A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services. RPC 7.2(b). See, for example, Washington Advisory Opinion 1535. Receiving a gift from a client is also permitted, but a lawyer should not solicit a “substantial” gift from a client. RPC 1.8 (c). Comment 6 clarifies that “a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted.”
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