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OPINION 66-20

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 66-20

April 4, 1966


A lawyer who was associated in a litigated matter with another lawyer at the time of the other lawyer's disbarment may, upon conclusion of the case, share the fee with the disbarred lawyer to the extent realistically and fairly earned by him for services and responsibility before (but not after) his disbarment.

Note: Subsequent to the adoption of this opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that a lawyer who withdrew from a contingent fee case upon being suspended is not entitled to a fee. Santini v. Cleveland Clinic Florida, 65 So. 3d 22 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011).

Canons: 34; Additional Rule 12

Chairman Kittleson stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar has requested the Committee's advice on a question of sharing a fee with a disbarred lawyer. We understand the circumstances to be these. A lawyer, prior to his disbarment, acted as attorney for a claimant who became a plaintiff in a litigated matter. He investigated the case, then referred it to the inquiring lawyer for trial, and assisted the latter in preparing for litigation. Thereafter, the lawyer was disbarred. As the plaintiff's attorney, the inquirer is now about to conclude the case. His inquiry is as to the propriety of sending a referral fee to the disbarred lawyer for services rendered.

The Committee has considered a similar question on earlier occasions. First, the Committee holds that no “referral fee,” as such, is proper, whether or not the recipient is disbarred. Canon 34 clearly provides that no division of fees for legal services is proper, except with another lawyer, based upon a division of service and responsibility. Secondly, the Committee has advised that a lawyer should not accept referrals of cases directly from a disbarred lawyer but he may undertake cases and matters that a disbarred lawyer is unable to continue because of the disbarment, where the request comes from, and fee arrangements are made with, the client. This is probably not directly relevant to this question, because here apparently the lawyer accepted the referral, and established an attorney-client relationship with the client, before the other lawyer's disbarment. Thirdly, the Committee has advised that where a lawyer succeeds a disbarred lawyer in representing a client, the successor lawyer may divide the fee with the disbarred lawyer to the extent realistically and fairly earned by the disbarred lawyer for services and responsibility before (but not after) his disbarment.

66-20.pdf

[Revised: 03-09-2012]