OPC v. Bowen, 2021 UT 53 (Sept. 2, 2021)

Attorney used upfront flat fee agreements with clients that declared the fee was “earned upon payment,” and deposited the retainers directly into his operating account. OPC sued attorney claiming the agreements violated Utah Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(c), which requires fees paid in advance to be held in a trust account until earned. Attorney argued that the Rules of Professional Conduct “provide a safe harbor…to lawyers whose actions are ‘in compliance’ with an ethics opinion that has not been ‘withdrawn.’” While a previous case had not expressly withdrawn the ethics opinion Bowen relied upon, the court explained that “it does not seem to be that big a lift to ask attorneys who have a question about a rule of professional conduct to review [the court’s] case law to see if [the court] ha[s] spoken about the rule” and if the supreme court’s “interpretation clashes with…an ethics advisory opinion,” the court’s “interpretation controls.”