by Sheila Blackford ©2010 I just learned that the Oregon Supreme Court approved changes to Oregon RPC 1.5 and 1.15-1 regarding earned on receipt fees and RPC 3.3 relating to a lawyer’s responsibilities when a client or witness offers false evidence.
Let me say that “Earned on Receipt” fees have been troubling legal fees because many lawyers want to designate them as “Nonrefundable.” If you didn’t do the work bargained for, then to hang onto the fee would be collecting a ‘clearly excessive fee,” putting you in violation of Rule 1.5. Now the rule has been amended and if you charge earned on receipt fees you will want to review this amendment so that you can comply:
Rule 1.5 Fees
“…(c) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge or collect:
(1) any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of spousal or child support or a property settlement;
(2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case;
(3) a fee denominated as “earned on receipt,” “nonrefundable” or in similar terms unless it is pursuant to a written agreement signed by the client which explains that:
(i) the funds will not be deposited into the lawyer trust account, and
(ii) the client may discharge the lawyer at any time and in that event may be entitled to a refund of all or part of the fee if the services for which the fee was paid are not completed.”
Make certain that you following the guidelines and have a written agreement signed by your client that properly explains this type of fee arrangement. Be prudent: use the actual language of the rule in your written agreement.
Rule 1.15-1 Safekeeping Property
“…(c) A lawyer shall deposit into a lawyer trust account legal fees and expenses that have been paid in advance, to be withdrawn by the lawyer only as fees are earned or expenses incurred, unless the fee is denominated as “earned on receipt,” “nonrefundable” or similar terms and complies with Rule 1.5(c) (3).
Make certain that you put fees that are designated “earned on receipt,” or “nonrefundanble” or other similar terms into your general account – not into your trust account.
Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal
“(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:
(1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;
(2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel;
(3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer, the lawyer’s client, or a witness called by the lawyer, has offered material evidence and the lawyer comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures, including if [necessary] permitted, disclosure to the tribunal. A lawyer may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false;
(4) conceal or fail to disclose to a tribunal that which the lawyer is required by law to reveal; or
(5) engage in other illegal conduct or conduct contrary to these Rules.
(b) A lawyer who represents a client in an adjudicative proceeding and who knows that a person intends to engage, is engaging or has engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to the proceeding shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if [ necessary ] permitted, disclosure to the tribunal.
(c) The duties stated in paragraphs (a) and (b) continue to the conclusion of the proceeding, [unless compliance ] but in no event require[s] disclosure of information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6.
(d) In an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the lawyer that will enable the tribunal to make an informed decision, whether or not the facts are adverse. ”
Be careful when reading the Rules. When in doubt, be sure to call the Oregon State Bar General Counsel, Helen Hierschbiel for help with interpreting the application of our Rules to your situation and for any ethics advice at extension # 361 at the OSB (503) 620-0222 or toll free in Oregon at 1-(800)-452-8260. If you can’t reach Helen, you can call Chris Mullmann, Assistant General General Counsel and Client Assistance Officer Manager at extension # 392.