These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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LEO NumTopicsSummary

5-Lawyers Changing Jobs

8-Bills and Fees

18-Consent and Prospective Waivers

31-Protecting and Disclosing Confidences and Secrets

38-Fee Splitting

45-Law Firms - Miscellaneous

This is a comprehensive opinion dealing with temporary lawyers ("lawyer temps"). A lawyer temp is treated like a lateral hire for conflicts purposes (although lawyer temps who are not given "broad access to client files and client communications" could more easily argue that they had not obtained confidences from firm clients for which they had not directly worked). As with lateral hires, screening lawyer temps does not cure conflicts. Lawyer temps may reveal the identity of other clients for which they have worked unless the clients request otherwise or the disclosure would be embarrassing or detrimental to the former clients.Paying a staffing agency (which in turn pays the lawyer temp) does not amount to fee-splitting because the agency has no attorney-client relationship with the client and is not practicing law (the New York Bar took a different approach, suggesting that the client separately pay the lawyer temp and agency). If a firm lawyer closely supervises the lawyer temp, the hiring of lawyer temps need not be disclosed to the client. A lawyer must inform the client before assigning work to a lawyer other than one designated by the client.Because "a law firm's mark-up of or surcharge on actual costs paid the staffing agency is a fee," the firm must disclose it to the client if "payment made to the staffing agency is billed to the client as a disbursement, or cost advanced on the client's behalf." On the other hand, the firm "may simply bill the client for services rendered in an amount reflecting its charge for the Lawyer Temp's time and services" without disclosing the firm's cost, just as firms bill a client at a certain rate for associates without disclosing their salaries. In that case, the "spread" between the salary and the fees generated "is a function of the cost of doing business including fixed and variable overhead expenses, as well as a component for profit."Because the relationship between a lawyer temp and a client is a traditional attorney-client relationship, the agency "must not attempt to limit or in any way control the amount of time a lawyer may spend on a particular matter, nor attempt to control the types of legal matters which the Lawyer Temp may handle." Agencies may not assign lawyer temps to jobs for which they are not competent.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn