Practice Pointer: Avoiding Fee Disputes and the Bar Complaints That Sometimes Accompany Them
by Kate A. Toomey
Disputes between lawyers and clients over fees are not in and of themselves disciplinary matters, and the Office of Professional Conduct ("OPC") typically dismisses or declines to prosecute complaints that solely concern the amount an attorney has charged or collected. Although the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from charging or collecting a "clearly excessive fee,"1 and offer guidance for evaluating the reasonableness of the fee,2 they don't dictate the terms of attorney-client contracts, nor do they insulate either party from entering into a bad bargain. The fact that many clients are dismayed by the amount owed at the conclusion of a representation is not, without more, a disciplinary issue.
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by Kate A. Toomey
Nobody likes rats, and I'm not referring to the Order Rodentia.
This premise is readily supported by the fact that some of the most agonized calls to the Ethics Hotline are from attorneys seeking guidance on what triggers the reporting requirement. Likewise, the reporting requirement usually elicits the most grumbling during the Office of Professional Conduct's ethics CLE presentations, with some attorneys going so far as to announce that they would never, under any circumstances, report another lawyer's misconduct.1 One more reason not to like it: the rule offers an ostensible cloak of "duty" for people who in my opinion are borderline tattletales,2 reporting easily remedied transgressions and insults from opposing counsel, or attempting to use a Bar complaint as leverage for settlement.
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Author; Diane Akiyama
Every attorney in private practice experiences the nightmare client that they knew they never should have agreed to represent. When dealing with nightmare clients, attorneys are usually careful to document everything in writing including sending a disengagement letter. However, in their dealings with other types of clients, attorneys may not regularly send disengagement letters or otherwise document the steps taken when terminating the representations. While the Rules of Professional Conduct do not require such notices, disengagement letters are a good habit for attorneys to adopt in their practice.
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If you ever want a few minutes' diversion and nothing else is handy, take a look at the Yellow Pages listings for attorneys.1 Although the Office of Professional Conduct ("OPC") seldom receives notarized and attested informal complaints about attorney advertising, people sometimes submit information (anonymously) about attorney advertising, and the OPC's Ethics Hotline regularly receives calls about what's permissible. The rules governing advertising are simple but not always scrupulously followed, and given the number of hotline calls, it's clear that attorneys aren't always familiar with them. This article is a primer on the rules governing mass media advertising, with suggestions about what to avoid.2
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