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

8-Bills and Fees

38-Fee Splitting

40-Trust Accounts

42-Payments to Solicit Recommendations

47-Lawyer Referral Services


Lawyers violate some ethics rules but not other ethics rules if they participate in a for-profit attorney-client matching service ("ACMS") under which the ACMS: advertises "without the lawyers input" fees for limited scope services to be provided by the lawyer; collects the fee, deposit it in the lawyers' operating account after the lawyer completes the work; withdraws a "marketing fee" which is set by the ACMS and based on the legal fee. Such an arrangement: (1) would violate the ethics rules governing limited scope representations, unless the lawyer and the client agree on the limitation rather than simply allowing the ACMS to define the scope in advance; (2) might involve an unreasonable fixed fee, unless the lawyer conducts "an independent assessment" of the advertised fee's relationship to the work; (3) would violate lawyers' ability to safeguard the unearned fixed fee; because the fee initially goes to the ACMS (a lay entity) and not to a trust account, and therefore could be vulnerable to the ACMS's creditors, cannot be refunded if that would be required, etc.; (4) would violate the fee-split rule because there is a "direct linkage" between the lawyer's fee and the ACMS's entitlement to compensation (in contrast to advertising fees which are not based on the legal fee amount); would violate the prohibition on lawyers giving lawyers or nonlawyers "anything of value" to recommend the lawyer (because the ACMS's marketing fee is not a legitimate advertising expense, but instead is "a sum tethered directly to her receipt, and the amount, of a legal fee paid by a client".

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn