The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct recently issued Opinion 2022-07 Lawyer Accepting and Holding Cryptocurrency in Escrow. The Opinion only addressed the issue of the receipt of cryptocurrency to be held in escrow by a lawyer, and did not address cryptocurrency as payment of a lawyer’s fees.
The Opinion examined whether a lawyer may accept and hold cryptocurrency in escrow for clients and third parties. A lawyer is unable to place cryptocurrency in a trust account because financial institutions do not accept or exchange cryptocurrency.
The Opinion discussed that the Internal Revenue Service treats cryptocurrency as property and not as monetary funds. See Notice 2014-21. Unless the cryptocurrency is converted into U.S. funds upon receipt by the lawyer, it cannot be deposited in an IOLTA. Because cryptocurrency is treated as property, it may be held by a lawyer for clients or third persons in connection with a representation or law related business.
It is recommended that the lawyer maintain separate records that document all exchanges or other dispositions of cryptocurrency and the value of the cryptocurrency at the time of each transfer or disposition. The lawyer must keep records related to the holding of cryptocurrency for seven years after disposition as required by Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a).
The Opinion also emphasized the importance of technological competency for lawyers involved with cryptocurrency. Further, a lawyer should require a detailed written escrow agreement that identifies the parties to the transaction and the underlying transaction for which the escrow account will be used to prevent unknowingly assisting in illegal activity by persons engaging in money laundering or other fraud.