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Bar Buzz: ABA opines on fee splitting in contingency cases

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released today Formal Opinion 487 that addresses fee splitting arrangements when a lawyer in a separate firm replaces the first counsel rather than works together on a contingency-fee case.

The opinion emphasizes that a previous attorney, whose services are terminated without cause, may be entitled to a fee for services performed prior to discharge and that any proposed agreement between the initial attorney and a successor should be fully disclosed and discussed with the client.

The model rule notes that the division of any proceeds from a case should be in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer, be reasonable in its totality and be agreed to by the client in writing, and states that Rule 1.5(e) is not applicable.

Formal Opinion 487 explains “Rule 1.5(a), however, alone supports the conclusion that client consent is required to divide the fee at the end of the case.”

Watch for a Quandaries and Quagmires column by our erudite ethics columnists on Opinion 487 in a forthcoming edition of Minnesota Lawyer.

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