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The Florida Bar
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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 69-9
March 24, 1969

It would be unethical for a workmen's compensation claimant's attorney to withdraw when appeal is appropriate on the sole ground that the appellate compensation would be inadequate, unless he had established an understanding with the client that he would not handle any appeal and unless full disclosure of the limited representation is made to the judge of industrial claims before fees are awarded at the trial level.

Canon: 44
Opinion: NY City 626

Committeeman Daniels stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar advises that he represents workmen's compensation claimants and that under prevailing practice a contingent fee of $50 is the maximum awarded by the Full Commission for any type of appellate review. We are advised that this fee is grossly inadequate and are asked if a lawyer may ethically withdraw from compensation cases where appellate review is or should be sought on the sole ground that inadequate compensation will be awarded him.

We conclude that such a withdrawal would violate Canon 44, which provides in pertinent part:

The right of an attorney or counsel to withdraw from employment, once assumed, arises from good cause. Even the desire or consent of the client is not always sufficient. The lawyer should not throw up the unfinished task to the detriment of his client except for reasons of honor or self-respect. . . .

Attorneys representing workmen's compensation claimants are on notice that F.S.A. 440.34(3) makes it unlawful to charge such claimants any fee not approved by either the Industrial Commission or a court of competent jurisdiction. Attorneys accepting such employment are, accordingly, legally and ethically bound to accept only the fees so awarded. Any withdrawal from the representation on the sole ground that the fees awarded are inadequate would not be “for reasons of honor or self-respect” within the meaning of Canon 44. Compare: New York City Opinion 626.

The Committee assumes for present purposes that the inquiring attorney has reference to cases in which he has been retained to handle a claimant's case to completion. Should the attorney wish to undertake a claimant's representation only before the Judge of Industrial Claims, we see no ethical impropriety in doing so, so long as (a) the attorney has a clear understanding with his client that he will not continue the representation if appellate proceedings are required or taken; and (b) a full disclosure of the limited representation is made to the Judge of Industrial Claims before any fees are awarded on the trial level.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]