Question about IOLA accounts (IOLA = Interest on Lawyer Account Fund, see iola.org/about-iola). (IOLA is called IOLTA in some states.)

Our client has to pay restitution to Walmart. It has taken me months to get payment instructions from Walmart but now we have everything set. (I had to get them to assign a magic reference number.)

The easiest way to make the payment is to use a web form and enter a credit card number. That will generate an email receipt. The slightly harder way is to mail in a check and then try to wring a receipt from the office that took three months to issue a reference number.

Our client tried to make the payment to the court months ago but the court wouldn't accept payment. The client wanted to get the money out of his bank account asap so he wouldn't spend it, so he wrote a check to our firm. My supervising attorney (SA) put it in his IOLA account. Now what?

I think it's okay to briefly transfer the funds from IOLA to operating (business) and then make the credit card payment online. SA disagrees and thinks the only kosher way to do this is to write a check on the IOLA account. I'm going to do it his way but I'm curious whether his concern was a bit over the top. He thinks what I'm proposing would constitute commingling of funds.

If you prefer a more general question, consider almost all of the above background for why I'm asking the question. Basically what I'd like to know is, is it okay to transfer a sum out of IOLA into Operating (Business) for five minutes in order to make an online payment using a credit card. (IOLA accounts don't have credit cards associated with them.)

What about writing a check on the IOLA account, to make a credit card payment? (To me, that would not really make things more transparent....)

It would be great to have an actual reference but a conceptual answer would be helpful too.

  • I think this comes under the heading of specific legal advice unless significantly reworded. Also please expand your acronyms Nov 19 '21 at 23:24
  • @DavidSiegel - Is that better? Nov 19 '21 at 23:40
  • I think this is right on the edge of specific legal advice, but I have retracted my close vote. Please see law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1185/… and law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/legal-advice Nov 19 '21 at 23:50
  • Many state bars have ethics help lines. If you are an attorney and you want to help your supervisor think about the problem you might call them. Messing with clients money can get you disciplined. If this comes up a lot I’d look into a debit card for the account or a new business account with the minimum balance that you never use other than for the purpose you suggest. Again these ideas would be checked with the ethics hot line. Nov 20 '21 at 15:43
  • @GeorgeWhite I did read that the debit card function is not allowed for IOLA accounts. Also note that if you're going to hold client funds it is required to deposit them into the IOLA. I'm working on finding a hotline I can use as a (non-attorney) paralegal. Thanks for the suggestion. Nov 20 '21 at 19:24

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