Category Archives: Lawyer fee agreements

ABA Ethics Opinion provides ethics requirements when lawyer receives an earned fee in which another lawyer has an interest

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent ABA Formal Ethics Opinion which addresses the ethical requirements when a lawyer receives an earned fee that is subject to a fee sharing arrangement and both lawyers have an interest in the fee.  The opinion is ABA Formal Opinion 475 (December 7, 2016) and is online here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_opinion_475.authcheckdam.pdf.  The opinion discusses the ABA Model Rules which apply when lawyers agree to properly share a fee and one lawyer receives the earned fee.

According to the ABA opinion, “Model Rule 1.5(e) provides for the division of fees between lawyers who are not in the same firm.  A division of a fee “is a single billing to a client covering the fee of two or more lawyers who are not in the same firm.”  Rule 1.5(e) provides that such agreements are permissible only if the division is proportionate to the services performed by each lawyer or both lawyers assume joint responsibility for the representation, the client agrees to the arrangement including the share each lawyer ‘will receive, the arrangement is confirmed in writing, and the total fee is reasonable. Model Rule 1.15(a) provides in pertinent part that a lawyer shall hold property of…third persons that is in a lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer’s own property.’”

The opinion states that “(t)he receiving lawyer…must, under Rule 1.15(a), deposit the funds in which co-counsel holds an interest in an account (typically a trust account) separate from the lawyer’s own property. Rule 1.15(d) requires the lawyer who receives the earned fees subject to a division agreement to promptly notify the other lawyer who holds an interest in the fee of receipt of the funds, promptly deliver to the other lawyer the agreed upon portion of the fee, and, if requested by the other lawyer, provide a full accounting.”

“Finally, if there is any dispute as to the interest of the receiving lawyer and the lawyer with whom the receiving lawyer is dividing a fee, Rule 1.15(e) requires that the receiving lawyer keep the disputed funds separate from the lawyer’s own property until the dispute is resolved.”

Bottom line:  “A lawyer may divide a fee with another lawyer who is not in the same firm if the arrangement meets the requirements of Model Rule 1.5(e). When one lawyer receives an earned fee that is subject to such an arrangement and both lawyers have an interest in that earned fee, Model Rules 1.15(a) and 1.15(d) require that the receiving lawyer hold the funds in an account separate from the lawyer’s own property, appropriately safeguard the funds, promptly notify the other lawyer who holds an interest in the fee of receipt of the funds, promptly deliver to the other lawyer the agreed upon portion of the fee, and, if requested by the other lawyer, provide a full accounting”.  (Most states, including Florida, the same or substantially similar rules).

Lawyers must be aware that, according to this recent ABA opinion (which is not binding), when there is a fee sharing arrangement (referral or co-counsel fee), and the lawyer receives funds to which another lawyer has an interest, the receiving lawyer must hold the funds in a separate account, safeguard the funds, promptly notify the other lawyer, and provide an accounting if requested by the other lawyer.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under ABA Formal Ethics Opinion referral fees, ABA formal opinions, ABA opinion lawyer who receives earned fee when another lawyer has an interest- referral and co-counsel, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer fee agreements, lawyer fee splitting, Lawyer referral fees, Lawyer trust accounts

The Florida Bar’s Rules Committee will propose additional changes to Bar Rules related to resolution of extraordinary liens in contingency matters

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent activity of The Florida Bar and the Board of Governors (BOG) related to the requirement that lawyers be required to resolve outstanding liens as part of the representation in contingency matters.  I previously blogged about the BOG’s approval of proposed revision to Bar Rule 4-1.5 to require lawyers to resolve the liens in my June 6, 2013 Ethics Alert.  The BOG initially approved the proposed rule revision at its meeting on May 31, 2013 and would add new subdivision (E) to Rule 4-1.5(f)(4) if approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

According to an article in the September 1, 2013 issue of The Florida Bar News, the Bar Rules Committee is revising the language of the revised rule which would allow the retention of another law firm to handle medical lien resolutions in contingency cases under certain circumstances.  The chair of the Bar Rules Committee told the Board of Governors (BOG) at its July 2013 meeting that questions came up after the BOG approved the amendments at its May 31, 2013 meeting, including when an outside attorney could be retained by the client to handle lien resolutions.

The chair stated that “(i)t was recognized that there were some extraordinary things that came into play with Medicaid and Medicare, and sometimes the lawyer is in over his head, and there are professionals who do that sort of thing.”  The change would clarify that the original lawyer may not receive any additional fee for handling lien resolutions under the original contingency fee agreement and also cannot split fees or receive any extra payment if lien resolutions are turned over to another lawyer.

The BOG had previously proposed an amendment to the rule allowing the retention of attorneys to handle medical and other liens under a reverse contingency fee with the consent of the client; however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected that rule amendment and opined that it is the responsibility of the lawyer as part of the original contingency contract to resolve the liens. The new proposed rule would permit the liens to be handled by another lawyer in extraordinary circumstances since the client would benefit by having those liens resolved by a lawyer concentrating in that area.  The revised rule will be placed on the BOG’s October 2013 meeting agenda for review and potential approval.

The current proposed rule revision language is as follows:

RULE 4-1.5 FEES AND COSTS FOR LEGAL SERVICES

 

4-1.5(f)(4)

 

1.  a lawyer in a personal injury or wrongful death case charging a contingent fee must provide ordinary lien resolution as part of the lawyer’s representation under the fee contract may not charge any additional fee to the client for providing such services, if all fees for the personal injury matter plus lien resolution exceed the contingent fee schedule;

 

2.  extraordinary services for subrogation and lien resolution may be referred to another only with the client’s informed consent, that additional fees by the other lawyer must comply with all provisions of the fee rule and,

 

3.  the lawyer providing the extraordinary subrogation and lien resolution services may not divide fees with the lawyer handling the personal injury or wrongful death claim. The comment explains what lien resolution services are required as part of the original fee contract and what extraordinary services include. 

Bottom line:  As I previously stated, it is the general practice of lawyers in Florida to resolve client liens on behalf of the client as part of the representation; therefore, this revision will not generally impact lawyers in most cases; however, if there are extraordinary circumstances, the proposed rule revision will detail the circumstances which would permit the client to retain separate counsel to handle and resolve those liens and provide guidance regarding those circumstances.

I will keep you posted and be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under Contingency fee agreements, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer fee agreements, Lawyer lien resolution in contingency cases, Lien resolution

Bar Ethics Committee will decide whether to modify or withdraw Ethics Op. 87-4 which allows lawyers to offer 2 contracts to PI clients

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Notice in the April 30, 2013 issue of The Florida Bar News advising that the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee (PEC) will consider whether to modify or withdraw current Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 87-4, which states that lawyers may offer personal injury clients a choice between two contingent fee contracts with differing percentage fees depending on whether the client or the lawyer will assume responsibility for submitting the client’s medical bills for payment as long as neither percentage exceeds the maximum allowed under the contingency fee requirements of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.  The Florida Bar’s Notice is at http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/39825807a56dd34185257b5500458f47!OpenDocument and Ethics Opinion 87-4 is at: http://www.floridabar.org/tfb/tfbetopin.nsf/SearchView/ETHICS,+OPINION+87-4?opendocument

The PEC will consider whether to withdraw or modify Ethics Opinion 87-4 at its meeting at 2 pm on June 28, 2013 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in conjunction with The Florida Bar Annual Convention.  The review of the Ethics Opinion for potential withdrawal or modification is in conjunction with the recent Notice that the Bar Board of Governors intends to take final action on proposed changes to the Florida Bar rules at its May 31, 2013 meeting in Sarasota.

The proposed Bar rule changes include proposed new Rule 4-1.5(f)(4)(E), which would prohibit a lawyer from charging any additional fee to the client for providing “ordinary lien resolution” and, if all fees for the personal injury matter plus lien resolution exceed the contingent fee schedule, “extraordinary services for subrogation and lien resolution” may be referred to another only with the client’s informed consent.  Further, any additional fees by the other lawyer must comply with all provisions of the fee rule and that the lawyer providing the extraordinary subrogation and lien resolution services may not divide fees with the lawyer handling the personal injury or wrongful death claim.  The Comment to the Rule “explains what lien resolution services are required as part of the original fee contract and what extraordinary services entail.”

Comments regarding the proposed modification or withdrawal can be directed to Elizabeth Tarbert, Bar Ethics Counsel in Tallahassee or by e-mail to the Bar Ethics Department at eto@flabar.org.

Bottom line:  This proposed Bar rule would impose (for the first time) a duty on Florida lawyers to provide “ordinary lien resolution” services in all personal injury and wrongful death matters.  If the proposed rule is implemented, one of the questions will be what is “ordinary lien resolution” and what constitutes “extraordinary services for subrogation and lien resolution”  As I have previously explained, if there are disputes regarding distribution of PI/wrongful death settlement funds, including disputes by third party lien holders, the lawyer can consider an interpleader action and placing the funds in the registry of the court.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Bar rules fee agreements, Contingency fee agreements, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer fee agreements, Lawyer improper fees, Lien resolution

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court amends Massachusetts Bar Rules to require most fee arrangements to be in writing effective January 1, 2013

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Order issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which will amend the Massachusetts Bar Rules to require most fee arrangements to be in writing effective January 1, 2013.  The Order is  online at: http://www.mass.gov/obcbbo/SJCRPC10-24-12.pdf.

The Supreme Judicial Court Order amends Massachusetts Bar Rule 1.5(b) and will require that the scope of the representation and basis or rate of the fee and expenses be communicated to the client in writing in most circumstances.  This amendment is a major change from the current version of the Bar Rule, which states that only contingent fee agreements must be in writing and other types of fee arrangements should “preferably” be communicated in writing.  The section as amended provides:

(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (b )(2), the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client in writing before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, except when the lawyer will charge a regularly represented client on the same basis or rate. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be communicated in writing to the client.

A new comment to the Massachusetts Bar Rule explains what is required and states that “a simple memorandum or copy of the lawyer’s customary fee schedule is sufficient if the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee is set forth.”  The comment also notes that the lawyer ordinarily should send the written fee statement to the client before any substantial services are rendered.  Section (b)(2) of the revised rule creates exemptions to the requirement of a written statement for a single-session legal consultation and for a situation in which the lawyer reasonably expects the total fee to the client will be under $500. This section additionally states that, where an indigent representation fee is imposed by a court, a writing is not required because no fee agreement has been entered into between a lawyer and a client.

Whether the writing is a fee agreement executed by both parties or is a letter or memorandum from the attorney to the client, it must set forth the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of both the fee and expenses.  In addition to describing the services to be provided, the agreement should also specify, the limitations on the services, if any, such as the exclusion of an appeal from the representation or if other  types of potential relief will not be pursued.  The writing must also state whether the fee is a flat/set fee or a retainer against hourly charges and, if it is an hourly retainer, it must disclose the hourly rate.  The writing must also disclose how expenses will be billed.

Bottom line:  As of 1/1/13, Massachusetts lawyers will be required to put most fee agreements/arrangements in writing.  The rationale underlying this requirement that fee and expense arrangements be in writing is to avoid disputes between the lawyer and client; however, the lack of a writing can also form the basis of a charge that the lawyer violated the Bar Rules.  Which state will be next?

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Bar rules fee agreements, joe corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer fee agreements, Lawyer written fee agreements