Ohio attorneys can accept and hold cryptocurrency in escrow for clients and third parties, but they must take steps to protect it and avoid getting involved in money laundering and other fraud, the state’s professional conduct board said.
Many international clients prefer using cryptocurrency for business transactions, according to the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct. But financial institutions don’t accept or exchange the currency, which means a lawyer can’t place it in his or her trust account, the board said.
Because cryptocurrency is treated as property, it can be held by a lawyer for clients or third parties as it relates to representation or law-related business, according to the board. The board’s opinion doesn’t apply to attorneys’ fees, it said in a footnote.
Attorneys who accept cryptocurrency must be aware of the risks associated with the technology, and they must “use reasonable care to minimize the risk of loss to client’s or third parties’ property,” the board said. Attorneys must also inform clients of the risks of holding and transferring cryptocurrency, according to the board.
Suggested methods to safeguard cryptocurrency held in escrow include cold storage wallets, encryption, and backup private keys, the board said.
To avoid participating in illegal activity, attorneys should require a detailed, written escrow agreement that names the parties involved in the transaction and the underlying transaction for the escrow account, according to the board.
Cryptocurrency records must be held by the attorney for seven years after disposition, the board said.
The opinion is Ohio Bd. of Prof’l Conduct, Op. 2022-07, 8/5/22.
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