LEO: Fees: Splitting Fees with a Disabled LE Op. 1111
Fees: Splitting Fees with a Disabled Lawyer Whose License Has
August 1, 1988
You wish to know whether your firm may honor a fee split arrangement with
an attorney who, during the pendency of an action, became disabled to
practice law due to a mental disability and whose license was suspended.
There is no allegation of wrongdoing surrounding the suspension and the
personal injury case which is the subject of the fee was settled after the
original lawyer became disabled.
DR:3-102(A) provides that "A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal
fees with a non-lawyer except ..." in three circumstances, none of which
are applicable to the present fact situation. Two of these provisions
provide for payment to a deceased lawyer and the third pertains to payment
to nonlawyer employees of a law firm in a compensation or retirement plan.
The Committee has previously opined that it is improper for an attorney
taking over for a disbarred attorney to divide a contingency fee with the
disbarred attorney prior to the revocation of his license when the fee is
received following the revocation of the other attorney's license. ( LE
Op. 809 and LE Op. 934) The Committee has also previously opined that it
is improper for a law firm to compensate a lawyer who has surrendered his
license for work performed on files by the lawyer prior to the surrender
of his license. ( LE Op. 970)
The present situation does not fall within these prior opinions since no
misconduct underlies the suspension of the attorney's license. However,
the Committee opines that even though the attorney's license was suspended
for mental disability rather than any wrongdoing, the attorney is still a "
nonlawyer" for purposes of DR:3-102(A). Therefore, it would be improper
to divide the contingency fee with the attorney whose license is suspended
when the fee is received following the suspension of the other attorney's
Committee Opinion August 1, 1988