You have presented a hypothetical situation in which a law firm has
in trust monies that belong to clients whom the firm is unable to
locate.  As stated in the hypothetical, the firm is aware of
Virginia Code  55-210.1, which permits unclaimed funds to be
turned over to the Commonwealth after five years of not being able
to locate clients.  However, the firm in the hypothetical would
like to hire an investigator to try to locate the clients. 
Additionally in the hypothetical, you stated that the law firm
would like to pay for the investigator from the monies held in the

Under the facts you have presented, you have asked the committee to
opine as to the propriety of a law firm using monies from a trust
to locate the clients whose funds are held in the law firm's trust.

The appropriate and controlling Disciplinary Rules relative to your
inquiry are DR 9-102(B)(1) and DR 2-105(A).

The Committee has previously opined that it is not improper for an
attorney, who has maintained in his trust account funds for clients
which the attorney has no means of contacting, to dispose of the
fund through The Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act. 
(See Legal Ethics Opinion Nos. 832 and  55-210.1, Va. Code.)  The
committee has also opined that it is not improper for an attorney
to deduct from a client's funds held in trust the reasonable costs
incurred for postage and telephone calls to locate that party so
long as the amount of money in trust justifies the amount expended. 
See, LEO #1644.

In the facts you presented, the committee believes that the intent
to locate the clients to give them the monies in the trust is the
dispositive point in the hypothetical.  Disciplinary Rule 9-
102(B)(1) requires that an attorney promptly notify a client of the
receipt of the client's funds or property.  Thus, the committee
opines that it is not improper to use monies from a trust to pay an
investigator to locate promptly clients whose whereabouts are
unknown.  However, the committee believes the amount paid out of
the trust to an investigator must be reasonable and must not
deplete the client's funds held in the trust itself, lest the
purpose of finding the client would be defeated.  Additionally, the
committee opines that the reasonableness test should also be
applied by the law firm, when examining the chance that the client
will be located through this method.  Since the committee has
previously opined that an attorney may identify clients with
unclaimed trust account monies and turn the monies over to the
Department of Treasury, the committee is of the opinion that the
attorney may also use a reasonable amount of the trust monies to
locate clients to give them the money that is in the trust.  (See
Legal Ethics Op. Nos. 818, 832 and  55-201.1 Va. Code). 
Furthermore, the committee is of the opinion that the law firm must
explain to the located client why and how any of the funds were
used in the search, pursuant to DR 2-105(A) which requires that a
lawyer's fee shall be reasonable and adequately explained to the
client.  Moreover, the committee does not believe that the instant
method of locating a client is required; it only opines that the
method mentioned is not improper.  Due diligence is all that is
required of an attorney trying to locate a client.  (See Legal
Ethics Op. No. 1644 and 55-210.2 Va. Code).  In the hypothetical
that you have given, the committee believes that using a reasonable
amount of trust monies to find clients would not be improper.   

[DRs 9-102, 2-105; LEOs 818, 832, 1644; Code of Virginia  55-

Committee Opinion
May 16, 1996