The importance of strict client onboarding, identification verification and adherence to AML compliance cannot be stressed enough for U.S. law firms. With instances of high-profile frauds and money laundering cases involving legal practices, there’s a rising need for rigorous procedures and checks.

1.. AML and ID Checks Regulations

a. Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)

Introduced in 1970, the BSA mandates firms to maintain adequate records, ensuring transparency in financial transactions and assistance in the detection of money laundering.

For example, in a recent and notable case, a prominent U.S. law firm failed to maintain transaction records as stipulated under the BSA, leading to a significant fine and reputational damage.


This act builds upon the BSA, introducing tighter measures aimed at detecting and preventing money laundering and terrorism financing.

c. AML Regulations Specific to Law Firms

Law firms aren’t financial institutions, but their involvement in significant financial transactions puts them under scrutiny. Handling client money, escrow services, and real estate transactions mean law firms often find themselves needing to adhere to similar regulations.

2. Different State Regulations

Every state in the U.S. has its regulatory nuances. However, a unifying theme across all states is the emphasis on ethical practices. Specific state bar associations provide guidelines on handling client money, maintaining transparency, and adhering to state-specific AML requirements.

In New York for example, law firms, like in many other jurisdictions, aren’t traditionally bound by “specific” AML regulations in the same way financial institutions are. However, they do have ethical obligations that can touch upon areas related to AML concerns.

For example:

New York Rules of Professional Conduct

The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) adheres to the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which outline obligations for lawyers regarding client funds, diligence, and competence, among other areas. Rule 1.15, for instance, specifically deals with the “Preserving Identity of Funds and Property of Others.”

Client Due Diligence: Lawyers, when handling large transactions or participating in certain financial dealings on behalf of clients, must exercise due diligence to ensure that they aren’t unintentionally aiding illegal activities, such as money laundering.

– Client Confidentiality vs. Suspicious Activities: Rule 1.6 discusses confidentiality of information, but lawyers may face ethical dilemmas if they suspect or are aware of client involvement in money laundering or other illegal financial activities. In such cases, they may need to consider their obligations under Rule 1.2(d), which prohibits assisting a client in conduct the lawyer knows is illegal.

Federal Regulations: Even though specific state rules for law firms may not explicitly target AML, federal laws like the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and USA PATRIOT Act have provisions that can affect law firm activities, especially when they deal with significant financial transactions, trusts, or international clients.

 – Voluntary Best Practices: Given the potential risk, many larger law firms, especially those dealing with international clients or large transactions, have adopted voluntary AML best practices. These practices can include enhanced due diligence for high-risk clients or transactions, ongoing monitoring, and periodic internal reviews.

It’s crucial to note that while New York law firms may not be directly regulated for AML in the same vein as banks, they are not immune to the consequences of inadvertently assisting in money laundering or other illicit financial activities. Hence, a proactive approach to understanding and integrating AML principles is crucial.

For the most precise and current AML requirements applicable to New York law firms, direct consultation with the NYSBA, or an attorney specialising in legal ethics or compliance in New York, is recommended.

3. Technology and AML Compliance

Biometric ID Checks

With advancements in technology, biometric verifications, such as facial recognition and fingerprint scans, are becoming mainstream. Law firms are now integrating these features into their client onboarding process to ensure a higher level of verification.

KYC Checks

Know Your Client (KYC) checks are standard in financial industries and are now gaining traction in legal sectors. These involve verifying the client’s identity, understanding their financial dealings, and ensuring they’re not involved in illicit activities.

Sanction Checks

This involves ensuring that the client or associated entities aren’t on any sanctioned lists or involved in activities against the interest of the state. U.S. law firms often consult lists maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Address Verification

In today’s regulatory landscape, law firms are increasingly recognising the importance of robust client onboarding procedures, including address verification. Verifying a client’s address is a critical step in the client due diligence process. Not only does it establish the legitimacy of the client and ensure correspondence reaches the correct recipient, but it also aids in risk assessment, particularly in identifying potential links to high-risk jurisdictions. Address verification helps law firms mitigate potential legal liabilities and reinforces their commitment to ethical practices. Utilising a combination of traditional documentation, such as utility bills or lease agreements, and modern digital verification tools, law firms can confidently validate their clients’ addresses, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and building a foundation of trust in attorney-client relationships.

Verify 365 Risk & Compliance Technology:

Verify 365 stands at the forefront of risk and compliance technology, offering an all-encompassing solution tailored for the unique needs of law firms worldwide. Recognised for its efficiency and precision, this platform seamlessly integrates into the client onboarding process, ensuring stringent ID checks, sanction checks, source of funds checks, address verifications, among other compliance checks. With the capability to instantly cross-reference and validate client data, including 15,000+ ID documents globally, Verify 365 not only meets but exceeds the AML regulatory requirements set for legal practices. Its adoption by hundreds of law firms globally is a testament to its reliability and effectiveness, providing legal professionals with the assurance that their due diligence processes are both comprehensive and state-of-the-art.

4. International Comparison

United Kingdom

Under the UK’s MLR, law firms conduct thorough due diligence before onboarding clients. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the UK has fined numerous law firms for failing to adhere to these stringent checks.


The PCMLTFA in Canada outlines explicit guidelines for client identification, record-keeping, and reporting. Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian law firms have also faced penalties for non-compliance.


The AML/CTF Act of 2006 necessitates client checks, especially when law firms provide services like trust account handling or participate in large financial transactions.

5. Real-world Cases of U.S. Law Firms Facing Penalties

Over the years, several U.S. law firms have faced hefty penalties for fraud:

1. Case A: A New York-based law firm faced severe penalties after facilitating a large transaction without conducting due diligence, leading to a massive money laundering scheme.

2. Case B: A prominent Californian firm faced repercussions when it failed to verify the source of funds in a significant real estate transaction, which was later linked to a drug cartel.

3. Case C: Sanctions checks were overlooked by a D.C. firm, leading to indirect dealings with entities blacklisted by OFAC, resulting in significant legal consequences.

The Imperative for U.S. Law Firms to Adopt AML Technology

In today’s increasingly globalised legal landscape, ensuring compliance with anti-money laundering regulations is paramount for law firms of all sizes. In the UK, the adoption of AML technology has already streamlined and fortified the verification process, making it both efficient and robust against potential legal infractions. For U.S. law firms that continue to rely on manual checks, not only is there a heightened risk of oversights or errors, but the process itself becomes tedious, time-consuming, and significantly more resource-intensive. Leveraging AML technology, such as Verify 365, not only ensures a higher level of accuracy in client verification but also offers seamless integration with popular case management systems like Actionstep and Clio. This allows firms to effortlessly maintain compliance without disrupting their existing workflow.

Benefits Over Manual Checks and Integration Capabilities

Embracing AML technology offers U.S. law firms numerous benefits over traditional manual checks. First and foremost, it significantly reduces the possibility of human error — a primary concern in manual verifications which can lead to unintentional regulatory breaches, tarnishing the firm’s reputation and incurring hefty penalties. Additionally, automated systems are more adept at handling vast amounts of data, ensuring comprehensive checks against global databases in mere seconds, something unfeasible with manual methods.

With Verify 365 integration and compatibility with platforms like Actionstep and Clio, law firms can achieve a unified system, combining client management with rigorous compliance protocols. This not only optimises the workflow but also establishes a solid foundation for trust with clients and regulators alike. In an era where regulatory scrutiny is intensifying, it’s imperative for U.S. law firms to transition from outdated manual processes to modern, technology-driven solutions.

While the legal landscape continually evolves, one constant remains: the need for rigorous client onboarding and AML compliance. With a blend of traditional verification methods and technology-driven solutions like Verify 365, U.S. law firms can ensure adherence to regulations, safeguarding their reputation and maintaining the trust of their clients.

*Note*: This guide provides an overview, but law firms should always consult legal experts or compliance professionals for specific advice. Always stay updated on the latest AML regulations, as they can change frequently.