ABA Issues Opinion Addressing Disputes over Fee Division

The ABA today issued Formal Opinion 475, entitled “Safeguarding Fees That Are Subject to Division With Other Counsel.”  The abstract provides:

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.

The opinion is available here.  I’ve dealt with lawyers fighting over fees a few times, and the opinion in my view is pretty straightforward… however, always be sure to check the particular state rules, since not all states follow the Model Rule, either by adopting different text or by interpretation.

About David

Professor of Law, Mercer University School of Law. Formerly Of Counsel, Taylor English Duma, LLP and in 2012-13, judicial clerk to Chief Judge Rader.