FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
April 4, 1966
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
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).
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.