FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
February 12, 1973
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
So long as no client’s confidences are violated, a law firm may ethically represent a client
referred to it by another law firm which had been forced to disassociate itself from two clients
because of a conflict of interest. Any referral fee paid to the referring attorney must be based
solely upon the work done before the conflict developed.
DR 2-107, 4-101, 5-105
Vice Chairman Daniels stated the opinion of the committee:
The driver and passenger in a car were injured in an intersection accident. A
partner in Law Firm A executed a contingent fee contract with the passenger. Less
than a month later another partner in Firm A executed a contingent fee contract
with the driver, being unaware that the firm already represented the passenger. A
few weeks later, Firm A realized that it had been retained by both parties and that
the passenger might have a claim against the driver. Firm A then wrote the driver
saying it could not represent him and claiming no fee for prior services. The
driver then obtained new counsel.
Firm A then referred the passenger’s case to Firm B. The passenger’s file
contained no confidential information which Firm A had obtained from the driver
and no such information was conveyed by Firm A to Firm B. Firm B inquires as
to the propriety of its continuing to represent the passenger and whether it may
pay a customary one-third referral fee to Firm A.
Since no client’s confidences have been violated by either firm and Firm B has never
represented conflicting interests, Firm B may properly continue to represent the passenger.
However, it would be unprofessional to pay Firm A a “customary one-third referral fee.” Fee
division among lawyers must be based solely upon a sharing of work and responsibility. Firm A
cannot participate in the handling of the passenger’s case and the only compensation it could in
any circumstances receive would be for the reasonable value of the services rendered the
passenger before it was retained by the driver.