The Florida Bar
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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 71-26
September 13, 1971

It is not unethical for an attorney to charge interest (or service charges) at an agreed legal rate on fees that are delinquent.

CPR: EC 2-19, 2-23; DR 2-106

Chairman Massey stated the opinion of the committee:

A problem has arisen in that an attorney's clients have been late in paying bills for service and expense rendered. He inquires whether he may ethically charge interest or service charges to the delinquent client. The Committee does not desire to beg the question here but would point out that essentially the inquiry involves questions of law. The application of the Federal Consumer Protection Act is purely one of law. On the other hand, there is no ethical objection to the charging of interest at an agreed legal rate for fees not paid when due.

Usury cannot be justified by an agreement in advance and therefore the rate must be a legal one. Beyond this, “carrying” or “service” charges which either alone or coupled with interest are in excess of legal interest rates would be not only unethical but illegal. See DR 2-106.

An attorney ethically is instructed as soon as possible after being employed to enter into a clear agreement with the client as to charges to be made, and this is most beneficial when reduced to writing. EC 2-19. Nothing in the Code of Professional Responsibility prohibits interest or service charges; however, the attorney should, by reducing the agreement to writing, be able to take care of the remonstration contained in EC 2-23.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]