The Florida Bar
October 22, 1964

An arrangement whereby a local bar association would maintain a reference file listing the names of persons delinquent in payment of attorney's fees is unprofessional. It is not unethical for an attorney to render professional services to a client who is indebted to another attorney.

Canons: 7, 37

Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar states that it is his understanding an attorney may not ethically render professional services to a client when the attorney has knowledge that another attorney has previously served the client and not been paid for his services. He inquires if there is any legal or ethical objection to a local bar association maintaining a reference file, open to all members of the association, which file would list the names of persons or entities who are delinquent in payment of attorney's fees. The information list in the file would be received from attorneys and the names of delinquent clients would be furnished to other attorneys upon request. All other information, however, would flow directly between the reporting and the inquiring attorney.

A majority of this Committee does not look with favor upon such a plan. We are not prepared to condemn it as unethical and we have no authority to pass upon legal considerations. A majority of the Committee, however, feels that the arrangement is unprofessional and would tend to commercialize the profession. Further, it is possible that the arrangement would violate the provisions of Canon 37, which pertain to the confidential nature of communications between attorney and client.

One member of the Committee feels that the arrangement would be proper.

Attention is called to Drinker, Legal Ethics, page 200. There it is stated that a lawyer superseding another lawyer is not responsible for the fees due to the lawyer first employed. However, that lawyer is entitled to notice from a successor in order that he can take appropriate steps to protect his interests or any attorney's lien that may exist. We are not aware, as indicated in the inquiry, that it is unethical for one attorney to render professional services to a client who is previously indebted to another attorney.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]