The injury attorneys at Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm near you have significant experience in helping clients who need help settling their personal injury claim after an auto accident, after being a DUI or nursing home abuse victim, or after having experienced a drug recall. Our offices are conveniently located in nearby Chandler, Peoria, and North Phoenix, and we can meet in-person at our nearby offices, over the phone, or video call. You can contact us for a free consultation, or read on to find out more about fee splitting.
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Fee splitting arrangements in Arizona come with a host of ethical concerns that attorneys are often and understandably wary of. Traditional referral fees, fees charged for sending a prospective client to another lawyer, are generally prohibited by the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct. However, there are other ways to split fees that are perfectly permissible under Arizona’s ethical rules. This article seeks to parse out how fee splitting can be done ethically, and the obligations that should be considered when splitting fees with other attorneys.
Fee splitting in Arizona is primarily governed by two Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.5, which governs fees, and Rule 7.2, which prohibits payment from a lawyer to others who recommend the lawyers services. In the context of referral fees, these two rules appear at odds with each other. But there are scenarios where lawyers can split fees with other lawyers when they are both involved in the same or substantially related case.
Rule 7.2(b): The prohibition against traditional referral fees
Arizona Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(b) prevents a lawyer from giving anything of value to a person for recommending that lawyer’s services to potential clients. In contrast, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct allow compensation for recommendations if there is a non-exclusive agreement that is made known to the client. Under the model rules, lawyers can agree to share referral fees. In other words, if a client comes to an attorney with an issue outside of that attorney’s practice, and the attorney recommends they seek services from another lawyer, the second lawyer can pay the first for the recommendation. Some jurisdictions allow such arrangements, but Arizona rules do not have such an allowance. These traditional referral fees are prohibited by Arizona Rule 7.2(b). However, there are scenarios in which attorneys may share fees with other attorneys, even those who are from different firms.
Rule 1.5(e): Fee splitting
Arizona Rule 1.5 controls how lawyers charge fees. Section (e) governs fee splitting between lawyers of different firms. Fee splitting between lawyers of different firms is allowed, but only if certain conditions are met. Fees can be divided proportionately to the work done by each attorney. If an attorney has done 10% of the work in a case, they can collect 10% of the fee. The rule also allows for disproportionate fee splitting. For example, a lawyer who does 10% of the work in a case is permitted to collect 20% of the fee if the parties choose.
In this way, lawyers can collect a “finder’s fee” or referral fee without violating Rule 7.2(b). There is, however, a catch to such an arrangement. Disproportionate fee splitting requires that all lawyers involved assume joint responsibility for the representation. In either case, the total fee must be reasonable, and the client must agree in writing to the arrangement.
There are potential liability pitfalls that any lawyer should consider before becoming involved in a fee splitting arrangement. First, comment 8 to Rule 1.5 mandates that lawyers only refer a matter to someone who they reasonably believe is competent to handle the work. Further, if the referring lawyer knows, or should know, that another attorney has violated ethical rules, the referring lawyer is obligated to take appropriate steps to protect the interests of the client.
Additional care must be taken in disproportionate fee splitting arrangements. Disproportionate arrangements require that all attorneys involved accept joint responsibility. According to the State Bar of Arizona Ethics Committee, “Joint responsibility requires, at the least, that the referring attorney accept vicarious liability for any malpractice that occurs in the representation.” In sum, lawyers should take great care when deciding to split fees disproportionately and keep a close eye on the case as it proceeds.
It’s true that traditional referral fees are prohibited by Rule 7.2. Lawyers cannot simply collect payment for sending clients to other lawyers. However, Arizona rules do not have a blanket prohibition on fee splitting. To the contrary, Rule 1.5 allows for fee splitting arrangements to be made between attorneys of separate firms. Further, arrangements that comply with Rule 1.5 do not run afoul of Rule 7.2.
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At Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm near you, we have more than 15 years of experience helping clients obtain compensation for their and their loved one’s personal injuries in the Phoenix area. When you’re ready to talk, please contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation by phone or at our Chandler office, conveniently located near you.
If you or a loved one needs representation in a personal injury case, contact Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm in nearby Chandler, AZ to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. We provide personal injury legal services to clients in your area including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Peoria.