The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 70-17

June 22, 1970
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A lawyer may exercise a valid retaining lien upon documents and funds of his client properly in
his custody. The validity of such a lien is a question of law.

11 and 14
62-71, 65-10, 68-21, 68-37

Vice Chairman Gregory stated the opinion of the committee:
A Florida attorney is owed a substantial amount for undisputed fees and costs
incurred by and in behalf of a client for whom the lawyer holds “in my trust
account” an amount slightly less than the undisputed amount of obligation. The
lawyer has also billed the client for substantial additional fees which are disputed
and which the lawyer has suggested he and his client submit for determination by
the Arbitration Committee of the local Bar Association. We are requested to
advise whether there is “any obligation to return” the funds held in the trust
account to the client or “any obligation to transmit said money to settle one of ***
client’s cases with a third party.”
This Committee has held in 62-71 and 65-10 that there is nothing unethical about a
lawyer exercising a retaining lien upon documents and funds of his client properly in his custody
and to the extent he is entitled to such a lien by law; as was stated in the latter opinion, the
question of whether or not a valid retaining lien exists is a question of law and this Committee
has no authority to pass on or advise with respect to questions of law. The reservation concerning
questions of law is particularly pertinent here where by the terms of the inquiry, the status of the
funds held in the trust account, and the purpose or purposes for which they were deposited (i.e.,
whether deposited specifically for the settlement of a pending law suit) is not clear. See also
Opinions 68-21 and 68-37.