Ethics Advisory Opinion 14-03

Utah State Bar
Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee

Opinion Number 14-03

Issued April 22, 2014

ISSUE

1.         Do the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit referral agreements between two attorneys that require one of the attorneys (the “Referring Attorney”) to refer to the other (the “Receiving Attorney”) all clients that have a certain specified type of products liability claim?

 OPINION

2.         The Committee concludes that an agreement between two attorneys which requires the Referring Attorney to refer to the Receiving Attorney all clients that have a certain specified type of claim may likely violate various provisions of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”).

FACTS

3.         The Referring Attorney, licensed to practice in the State of Utah, and the Receiving Attorney, licensed to practice elsewhere, enter into an agreement governed by Utah law (the “Agreement”) to jointly pursue certain kinds of products liability claims (the “Claims”) of individuals located in the State of Utah.  The Agreement provides in relevant part:

  1. Referring Attorney will generate the cases by placing advertising and/or arranging for medical testing and diagnosis of prospective clients and would be entitled to reimbursement from the Receiving Attorney for the costs of doing so.
  2. In return for the Receiving Attorney’s agreement to pay those expenses, the Referring Attorney would be required to exclusively refer to the Receiving Attorney all clients having such Claims who contact the Referring Attorney.  The Referring Attorney would not be allowed to represent such clients himself or to refer such clients to any other attorney.
  3. The Referring Attorney will place advertising, accept incoming calls from potential clients, obtain medical records from potential clients, arrange for medical testing, and perform certain other related tasks, before turning the clients over to Receiving Attorney for further action.
  4. The Receiving Attorney will decide in his sole discretion the venue, jurisdiction, timing, counts, and content of complaints or petitions, joinder of plaintiffs and/or defendants, and any other strategic issues relating to the Claims.
  5. The Referring Attorney will ask clients to sign new fee agreements directly with the Receiving Attorney, identifying the Receiving Attorney as the clients’ attorney, will inform the clients of the division of fees between the two attorneys, and will inform the clients of any other matters deemed by either attorney to be required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  6. The Referring Attorney will not be required to perform any services except those specified in the Agreement or required by the Utah Rules or by any other ethical rules governing the Claims or any resulting cases.
  7. The Receiving Attorney will pay the Referring Attorney specified portions of the fees recovered by the Receiving Attorney for the clients on their Claims.

 ANALYSIS

 

4.         The fee sharing agreement between the two attorneys is governed by Rule 1.5, which provides that there may be a division of fees between lawyers in different firms, but on the following condition:

(e)(1) the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation;

(e)(2) the client agrees to the arrangement, including the share each lawyer will receive, and the agreement is confirmed in writing; and

(e)(3) the total fee is reasonable.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 09-02

OPINION NO. 09-02
MAIN OPINION:
Issued August 11, 2009
The five issues addressed in this Opinion are based upon the following general scenario:
A lawyer represents many homeowner’s associations (both condominium and PUD) in various matters, at various times. Many of these associations are nonprofit corporations and others are common law associations. They are all operated through elected volunteer owner representatives who are organized into boards of directors (although they sometimes use diferent names for the representatives such as the management committee or board of trustees). Many
of these boards hire professional managers, as they lack the experience, skils, and time to properly manage the associations. Some associations that the lawyer represents were referred through managers of the associations. Some of these managers work for management companies that manage many associations, thus providing an incentive for the lawyer to develop a good relationship with the manager to hopefully facilitate future referrals of other associations that the manager manages. It is also important for the lawyer to maintain a reasonably good relationship with the manager related to the lawyer’s clients managed by that manager, because it is common in the industry for the manager to act as the point of contact with the attorney on legal matters involving an association. The lawyer does not represent or work directly for the manager or management companies.

1. Issue 1: Given the general circumstances described above, can the lawyer ethically represent associations in matters that do not include adversarial situations with the manager, and is any disclosure required?
Opinion: The lawyer may represent the associations, and no disclosure is required.
Analysis: Under the circumstances summarized in the Introduction, there does not appear to be a conflct of interest in the scenario described in Issue 1. Assuming compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct generally, the representation does not appear to implicate Rule 1.7 1, and it does not appear that disclosure would be required.
2. Issue 2: Given the general circumstances described above, can the lawyer represent the association in a lawsuit against the manager, and is any disclosure required?
Opinion: conflct of interest exists under this scenario. Whether the clients may consent to the representation wil depend upon the circumstances of the representation.
Analysis: This scenario clearly creates a conflict under Rule 1.7(a), as “there is a significant risk that the representation of (the homeowner’s association (‘HOA’)) wil be materially limited by. . . a personal interest of the lawyer.” Lawyer has a personal and financial interest in preserving a friendly relationship with Manager, both to enhance the likelihood of future business referrals, and to preserve existing business relationships with other HOAs with which the manager is affiiated 2.
“Ordinarily, clients may consent to representation notwithstanding a conflct. However, as indicated in (Rule 1.7) paragraph (b), some conflcts are nonconsentable, meaning that the lawyer involved canot properly ask for such agreement or provide representation on the basis of the client’s consent 3. A conflct of interest is consentable if each of the four provisions of Rule 1. 7(b) is satisfied:
(b)(1) the lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer wil be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 08-01 Dissent

UTAH STATE BAR
ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION COMMITTEE
OPINION 08-01
PDF Version
DISSENT:
For Main Opinion
1. Dissents from a Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion are understandably rare because of the harmonious working relationship among Ethics Committee members and the shared objective: to provide well-researched and analyzed ethics opinions upon which Utah State Bar members can hopefully rely. It is, therefore, with some trepidation that I dissent from the main opinion. In my view, the main opinion is logically inconsistent with a Tenth Circuit decision that binds Utah lawyers in federal court; incompatible with judicial and ethics opinions in other jurisdictions; and potentially harmful to what I think should be the overriding ideal of all ethics opinions—to ensure justice for clients.

2. To begin, I believe the Committee’s framing of the issue is overly broad. As the Opinion states the issue: “May an attorney provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals pro se and prepare written submissions for them without disclosing the nature or extent of such assistance?” The Committee’s answer to that question is an unqualified “yes.” Yet, I believe the Committee’s categorical all-or-nothing, black-or-white answer, inclusive of “substantial” with “insubstantial” or quite limited legal services, is ill-advised and contrary to law. To me, the issue is not whether “insubstantial,” unbundled legal assistance for pro se litigants is permissible and ethical. No one has ever disagreed that such assistance is permissible, ethical and encouraged. In fact, Rule 1.2(c) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct provides for this type of limited representation.1 Instead, the issue for me, and most jurisdictions that analyze the issue, is whether undisclosed and “substantial” legal assistance, commonly called ghost-lawyering is ethical. Admittedly, the difference between “substantial and “insubstantial” can, in some circumstances, be ambiguous. Presumably, no one would argue that ghost-written appellate briefs or individualized complaints are “insubstantial”— or, to the contrary, that boiler-plate forms available to anyone on the Utah courts web-site (I assume written by lawyers) run afoul of current prohibitions against ghost-lawyering.
3. As described in Nevada Formal Opinion No. 34, issued in 2006,“Ghost-lawyering occurs when a member of the bar gives substantial legal assistance, by drafting or otherwise, to a party ostensibly appearing pro se, with the lawyer’s actual or constructive knowledge that the legal assistance will not be disclosed to the court.”2
4. Citing the same cases and law review articles as does our Committee in Opinion No. 74, the Nevada Opinion, as initially issued, came to an opposite result, concluding, as do I, that “ghost-lawyering is unethical unless the ghost-lawyer assistance and identity are disclosed to the court by the signature of the ghost-lawyer under Rule 11 [the same as Rule 11 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure] upon every paper filed with the court for which the ‘ghost-lawyer’ gave ‘substantial assistance’ to the pro se litigant by drafting or otherwise.”3
5. From the outset, there appears to be some disparity of perception between the main opinion and me over the potential harm in ghost-lawyering. The Committee writes, “It is not clear to this Committee at what point such a typical pro se party needing limited scope legal help has obtained ‘extensive’ or ‘substantial’ help that appears dishonest. Because over 80% of respondents and 49% of petitioners in divorce cases are unrepresented, these are the typical pro se parties and needed limited assistance of counsel.” The Committee further opines, “Therefore, the ‘unfair advantage’ that pro se parties ostensibly gain through the court’s liberal construction of their pleading—one of the bases for prohibiting ghost-writing—does not appear to apply under Utah law.”
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ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION No. 08-01

OPINION NO. 08-01
MAIN OPINION:
For Dissent Opinion 
Issued April 8, 2008
1. Issue:
May an attorney provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before a tribunal pro se and prepare written submissions for them without disclosing the nature or extent of such assistance? If so, what are the attorney’s obligations when full representation is not undertaken?

2. Opinion: Under the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, and in the absence of an express court rule to the contrary, a lawyer may provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals pro se and help them prepare written submissions without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure to others of the nature or extent of such assistance. Although providing limited legal help does not alter the attorney’s professional responsibilities, some aspects of the representation require special attention.
3. Background: Our Committee has previously issued three opinions regarding limited-scope legal representation under certain circumstances regarding various aspects of limited-scope legal representation.1 These opinions were issued under the Utah Code of Professional Responsibility that was superseded by the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by the Utah Supreme Court in 1988 and modified in certain respects by amendments that were adopted by the Court in November 2005. A synopsis of those opinions is found in Appendix A to this Opinion. In this opinion, we undertake a more comprehensive analysis of the “behind the scenes” limited representation under the current Utah rules.
4. Recently, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 07-446 (May 5, 2007), comprehensively discussing assistance to pro se parties and expressly superseding ABA Informal Opinion 1414, which disapproved certain undisclosed assistance of pro se litigants under the prior Code of Professional Conduct. ABA Opinion 07-446 concluded that under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, “a lawyer may provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals ‘pro se’ and help them prepare written submissions without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of the nature or extent of such assistance.”
5. Analysis: In addressing the issue posed, we begin by recognizing that a new regulatory framework is in place nationally and in Utah that provides directly for limited-scope legal representation of clients who, for various reasons, engage lawyers for narrowly circumscribed participation in their legal affairs.
6. Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” However, none of the comments to that rule suggest that failure to notify opposing parties and the court of limited assistance to a pro se party involves such dishonest conduct.2 Recently issued ABA Formal Opinion 07-446 expressly concludes that it does not: “[W]e do not believe that nondisclosure of the fact of legal assistance is dishonest so as to be prohibited by Rule 8.4(c).” Because the Rules of Professional Conduct include comments that explain and illustrate “the meaning and purpose of the rule” and “are intended as guides to interpretation,”3 and because the ABA drafters certainly knew of Informal Opinion 1414, it would have been obvious to include this example to illustrate dishonest conduct if that had been intended.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 05-03

September 30, 2005
HISTORY:
On May 6, 2005, the Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee issued Utah Ethics Advisory Op. No. 05-03, 2005 WL 4748681 (Utah St. Bar). The Requestors of the Opinion filed a Petition for Review with the Board of Bar Commissioners pursuant § III(e)(1) of the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee Rules of Procedure and § VI(a)(1) of the Utah State Bar Rules Governing the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee. At a meeting of the Board of Bar Commissioners of the Utah State Bar on July 13, 2005, the Commission reviewed the conclusions and analysis of the majority view and the minority view of Opinion No. 05-03, and voted to issue a revised opinion, set forth below as Opinion No. 05-03. The initial Opinion No. 05-03 as originally issued by the Committee is appended in its entirety for historical reference only and should not be cited or used for purposes other than background.
1. Issue: May a lawyer who serves as a domestic relations mediator, following a successful mediation, draft the settlement agreement and necessary court pleadings to obtain a divorce for the parties?

2. Opinion: When a lawyer-mediator, after a successful mediation, drafts the settlement agreement, complaint and other pleadings to implement the settlement and obtain a divorce for the parties, the lawyer-mediator is engaged in the practice of law and attempting to represent opposing parties in litigation. A lawyer may not represent both parties following a mediation to obtain a divorce for the parties.
3. Analysis: The issue considered here was the subject of a prior opinion issued by the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee in 1992. We have been asked to revisit this issue again because of the expansion and apparent success of divorce mediators in resolving domestic relations matters for pro se litigants for whom the cost of retaining legal counsel may be a serious financial burden. 1
4. Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion 116 considered the following issue: “Under what circumstances may an attorney represent both parties in a divorce?”2 The answer given in Opinion 116 was “never,” based on the clear ethical mandates of Rules 1.7(a) and 1.7(b) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct.3 These rules establish a duty of undivided loyalty of counsel to a client.4 Opinion 116 concluded that our rules preclude concurrent representation of clients with directly adverse interests in the matter. Opinion 116 included a lengthy discussion of policy arguments favoring dual representation and policy arguments opposing dual representation in divorce proceedings and concluded that: “The concurrent representation of both parties in a divorce is an ethically unacceptable practice.”5
5. In the 12 years since Opinion 116 was issued, the applicable rules and the arguments bearing upon dual representation in divorce proceedings have not materially changed. The arguably successful and beneficial development of alternative dispute resolution and mediation in the interim does not change our conclusion here. Since the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee has no policy-making authority, the fact that parties to all lawsuits, including divorces, are increasingly turning to alternative dispute resolution with reportedly positive results to the public and Bar alike cannot alter the clear mandate of our Rules. Whatever the social, financial or other impacts of the alternative dispute resolution trend, and even assuming its worth and inevitability, the ethical rules we are charged to uphold have no “public policy” exceptions that would permit the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee to rewrite the rules to achieve a result some may believe is beneficial, even if that revision is a carefully reasoned, narrowly crafted exception.6 (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-01

March 29, 2004
1 Issue:
What action, if any, may a lawyer for an employer ethically undertake on behalf of a vanished former employee who, along with the employer, has been named as a defendant in an action arising when the person was an employee?

2 Answer: Under certain narrowly prescribed conditions, an employer’s lawyer may ethically take limited action to protect the interests of the vanished former employee, provided the lack of direct contact with that defendant is brought to the attention of the relevant tribunal.
3 Facts: Plaintiff filed suit naming a company and its former employee as defendants. The employer concedes that the former employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment and has asked the company’s lawyers to represent the missing defendant. Absence of a formal answer to the complaint may result in a default judgment being entered against the absent former employee. We have no information about the reasons for the employee’s absence, but we assume that a reasonable effort has been made to locate the person and determine the reason for the absence. We also assume that, at this early stage of the proceeding, the interests of the employer and former employee are not in conflict.1The lawyer requesting this opinion also indicated that the employer has liability insurance that covers the incident giving rise to the lawsuit.2The company has requested that the lawyer represent the missing ex-employee.
4 Analysis: This case presents two fundamental, but competing ethical principles: On the one hand, a basic ingredient of the representation of a client is that, under Rule 1.4, the lawyer communicate with the client, keep the client informed about the status of the case, and provide sufficient information to the client that he may make informed decision.3On the other hand, lawyers have a general obligation to advance the administration of justice.4
5 A formal application of Rule 1.4, without reference to any other parts of the Rules of Professional Conduct, would produce the following syllogism: The lawyer hasn’t communicated with the absent ex-employee and cannot formally satisfy the requirements of Rule 1.4; a violation of Rule 1.4 constitutes an ethical transgression; ergo, the lawyer may not ethically represent the ex-employee. Yet, we find this result inconsistent with the greater public policy of providing safeguards for an individual’s rights to the extent practicable and when it can be done without infringing on the rights of others. After all, the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct are “rules of reason . . . [that] should be interpreted with reference to the purpose of legal representation.”5
6 Further, before a mechanical application of Rule 1.4 to the absent defendant leads us to conclude that lack of initial attorney-client communication mandates no representation, we consider the intent of Rule 1.4. It is constructed around the normal relationship of an attorney-client contact already having been established and provides the guidelines that require a lawyer to keep that client properly informed “to the extent the client is willing and able” to be so informed.6Here, for reasons that are not known—and perhaps not contemplated by the drafters and adopters of the Rules—the (prospective) client is not “willing and able.” Without further analysis, we, therefore, decline to conclude that Rule 1.4 prevents all forms of representation of the missing employee.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-01a

December 2, 2004
Amendment of Opinion No. 04-01: On March 29, 2004, the Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee issued Utah Ethics Advisory Op. No. 04-01, 2004 WL 870583 (Utah St. Bar).1 The Office of Professional Conduct of the Utah State Bar filed a petition for review with the Board of Bar Commissioners pursuant to § III(e)(1) of the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee Rules of Procedure and § VI(a)(1) of the Utah State Bar Rules Governing the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee. The Commission asked the Committee to reconsider Opinion No. 04-01. Having reviewed the issues raised by the Office of Professional Conduct, we issue this amended opinion, which revises the conclusion and analysis of Opinion No. 04-01. Accordingly, this amended opinion replaces and supersedes Opinion No. 04-01.
Issue: What action, if any, may a lawyer for an employer ethically undertake on behalf of a vanished former employee who, along with the employer, has been named as a defendant in an action arising when the person was an employee?


Opinion
: The lawyer may not act on behalf of or purport to represent the vanished former employee unless the lawyer has an existing attorney-client relationship with the former employee or the former employee agreed to the representation prior to vanishing and, in either case, the lawyer complies with Rules 1.7 and 1.8(f) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct. The lawyer who represents the employer may engage in acts that may benefit the vanished former employee provided the lawyer makes it clear that he is acting on behalf of the employer as the employer’s lawyer and not on behalf of the vanished former employee as the former employee’s lawyer.
Facts: Plaintiff filed suit naming a company and its former employee as defendants. The company concedes that the former employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment and has asked the company’s lawyers to represent the missing former employee. The company is concerned that absence of a formal answer to the complaint by the former employee may result in a default judgment being entered against the absent former employee. We have no information about the reasons for the employee’s absence, but we assume that a reasonable effort has been made to locate the person and determine the reason for the absence. We also assume that, at this early stage of the proceeding, the interests of the employer and employee are not directly adverse with respect to the matter.2 The lawyer requesting this opinion also indicated that the employer has liability insurance that covers the incident giving rise to the lawsuit.3 The company has requested that the lawyer represent the vanished former employee.
Analysis: This case presents two competing concerns: On the one hand, a basic ingredient of the representation of a client is that, under Rule 1.4, the lawyer communicate with the client, keep the client informed about the status of the case, and provide sufficient information to the client that the client may make informed decisions; and, under Rule 1.2, the lawyer must abide by the client’s decisions regarding the goals of the representation. On the other hand, the interests of a party missing from a proceeding will go unprotected with an application of the Rules. The Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason,4 to be interpreted to further the administration of justice when the Rules are unclear. However, in this instance, we conclude the Rules are clear and must be applied despite arguments of countervailing public policy.5 (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 02-03

(Issued February 27, 2002)
1 Issue:
What are the ethical obligations of an insurance defense lawyer with respect to insurance company guidelines and flat-fee arrangements?

2 Opinion: An insurance defense lawyer’s agreement to abide by insurance company guidelines or to perform insurance defense work for a flat fee is not per se unethical. The ethical implications of insurance company guidelines must be evaluated on a case by case basis. An insurance defense lawyer must not permit compliance with guidelines and other directives of an insurer relating to the lawyer’s services to impair materially the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in representing an insured. If compliance with the guidelines will be inconsistent with the lawyer’s professional obligations, and if the insurer is unwilling to modify the guidelines, the lawyer must not undertake the representation. Flat-fee arrangements for insurance defense cases are unethical if they would induce the lawyer improperly to curtail services for the client or perform them in any way contrary to the client’s interests. Obligations of lawyers under the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, including the duty zealously to represent the insured, cannot be diminished or modified by agreement.
Insurance Company Guidelines
3 Opinion Request Concerning Insurers’ Guidelines. The Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee has received a request for an ethics advisory opinion concerning insurance company guidelines for counsel who are employed to defend litigation brought by a third party against an insured. The requestors state that insurance companies doing business in Utah have incorporated in their defense-counsel retainer agreements certain billing protocols or guidelines governing attorneys’ procedures and payments that raise ethical issues.
4 Prior Opinions. Although issues pertaining to insurance company guidelines have been the subject of considerable discussion elsewhere,1 they have not been addressed directly by this Committee.2 When ethical concerns about insurance company guidelines have been raised in ethics opinions from other jurisdictions, the opinions are generally consistent with the summary set forth in ABA Opinion No. 01-421:
A lawyer must not permit compliance with “guidelines” and other directives of an insurer relating to the lawyer’s services to impair materially the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in representing an insured.
Although most of the ethics opinions on insurance company guidelines take a general approach, a few—while acknowledging that certain guidelines may be appropriate—have taken issue with particular guidelines. For purposes of illustration, portions of selected ethics opinions from other jurisdictions are set forth in Appendix A. We do not intend to imply agreement with the conclusions of these opinions. Rather, we wish to describe more fully the kinds of concerns that have been raised elsewhere, many of which are raised directly in the request before us.
5 Montana Supreme Court Decision. The Montana Supreme Court has issued an opinion that addresses these topics, but only after having determined that the insured is the sole client of the defense lawyer. Under that structure, the court noted that defense counsel (a) does not have a “blank check” to escalate litigation costs, (b) should consult with the insurer, (c) must charge reasonable fees, and (c) can be held accountable for its work. The Montana court then held that “defense counsel in Montana who submit to the requirement of prior approval [obtaining consent of the insurer prior to taking certain actions] violate their duties under the Rules of Professional Conduct to exercise their independent judgment and to give their undivided loyalty to insureds.”3
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 00-05

(Approved December 1, 2000)
1 Issue: Where a defendant is being represented by a lawyer appointed by defendant’s insurance carrier prior to the entry of any judgment against the defendant, would it be ethical for plaintiff’s lawyer to convey a settlement offer proposing that plaintiff take an assignment of any bad-faith claim that the defendant might have against the insurance carrier in exchange for plaintiff’s agreement not to execute against defendant for amounts exceeding the insurance policy limits?

2 Opinion: It is ethical for plaintiff’s lawyer to communicate this offer of settlement to the defendant so long as the communication complies with Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.1 and 4.2. If the offer of settlement creates a conflict of interest for the defendant’s insurance carrier-appointed lawyer, then the defendant’s lawyer must fully comply with Rule 1.7. Counsel’s presentation of plaintiff’s settlement offer to advance plaintiff’s interests is not unethical, even though it may place defendant’s counsel in a conflict of interest.
3 Facts: In a lawsuit brought against Defendant by Plaintiff, Defendant is being represented by a lawyer appointed by Defendant’s insurance carrier. There is the potential for a judgment against Defendant for an amount greater than the limits of the insurance policy. Prior to the entry of judgment (or even prior to the filing of a complaint), Plaintiff, through her lawyer, wishes to make a settlement offer to Defendant under which Plaintiff would accept an assignment of any bad-faith claims1Defendant might have against his insurance carrier in exchange for Plaintiff’s agreement not to execute on any judgment against Defendant to the extent that a judgment would exceed the limits of the applicable insurance policy.
4 The request to the Committee questions whether Plaintiff’s counsel’s conveying such an offer of settlement has ethical ramifications if it creates a relationship between Plaintiff’s lawyer and an adverse party that results in a conflict of interest for Defendant’s counsel. The Committee has been asked to consider the request under two assumptions: that the offer is conveyed (a) by a letter addressed to Defendant, in care of Defendant’s counsel, and (b) by a letter addressed to Defendant, in care of the insurance adjuster for Defendant’s insurance carrier.2
5 Discussion: The Committee has previously issued an opinion that provides guidance on this issue. In Opinion No. 98-05,3the Committee was asked if it was unethical for a defense lawyer to offer a “full satisfaction” settlement, conditioned upon a plaintiff’s waiving a claim for attorneys’ fees against defendant. The request suggested that these offers of settlement were unethical because they created a conflict of interest for plaintiff’s counsel under Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7(b), as plaintiff’s counsel’s interest in her fees might cloud her judgment as to the merits of the settlement. Opinion 98-05 states that defendant’s counsel does not act unethically in making an offer of settlement that may create a conflict of interest for plaintiff’s counsel. Defendant’s counsel in that case has a duty to represent the interests of his client zealously within the limits of law. It is the duty of plaintiff’s counsel to convey the settlement proposal to her client, to resolve any conflicts of interest arising under Rule 1.7(b), and to respond to the settlement proposal as dictated by her client.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 98-05

(Approved April 17, 1998)
Issue:
Is it unethical for a defense attorney to offer a “full satisfaction” settlement, conditioned upon plaintiff’s waiving a claim for attorneys’ fees against a defendant?

Opinion: It is not unethical for a defense attorney to present an offer of settlement conditioned on waiver of attorneys’ fees. The defense attorney in such a case has an obligation to represent the defendant zealously within the limits of the law.1Moreover, it is the defendant and not the defense attorney who controls settlement offers. The defense attorney in such a case is bound to convey settlement proposals, and to accept settlement offers, as dictated by the client.2
This answer, however, does not fully address possible ethical issues raised in a situation in which a client is a plaintiff pursuing a claim under which the plaintiff may be able to recover attorneys’ fees for pursuing the cause of action. Such a circumstance could arise, for example, in many civil rights and employment discrimination actions.
Practitioners representing plaintiffs in such circumstances should be aware of a potential conflict of interest between the plaintiff’s attorney and the client if the plaintiff receives a settlement offer that is conditioned on a waiver or dismissal of the claim for attorneys’ fees. This conflict of interest can arise where the plaintiff’s attorney has pursued the case in anticipation of recovering attorneys’ fees from the defendant at the conclusion of the proceedings.3
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in such circumstances should be aware that this potential for a conflict of interest can be resolved by full disclosure in advance of this potential problem and the execution of an appropriate attorney-client fee agreement addressing this eventuality. So long as an attorney complies with the requirements of Rule 1.5 regarding fees,4the establishment of fees between lawyer and client and the method by which those fees are to be collected are matters of business and contract between the attorney and the client.
Attorneys representing plaintiffs in such cases are advised, however, to review carefully the language of Rule 1.2 5regarding the scope of representation of clients-specifically the requirement that a lawyer must abide by a client’s decision to accept or reject an offer of settlement of a legal matter.
It is not the purpose of this opinion to advise attorneys of all the possible ways to address the issue raised here; it is merely to alert practitioners to this issue. However, it is possible to address the problem by recognizing the issue early in the representation and agreeing with the client in advance concerning how the client will pay the attorney’s fee if attorneys’ fees are not recovered from the defendant. This might be accomplished by an agreement that the attorney would normally be paid on a contingent-fee basis, but alternately on an hourly fee basis if there is no recovery of attorneys’ fees from the defendant.
It is important to note also what a practitioner cannot do to resolve this problem. It would be unethical for an attorney to contract in advance with a client that the client may not accept or that the attorney may veto a particular offer in settlement of a case. An attorney must convey all offers of settlement to a client, and the client must always have final say whether or not it will be accepted.6This ultimate client authority cannot be contracted away.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 97-05

(Approved April 25, 1997)
Issue No. 1: Is it ethical for an attorney to receive payment for legal services other than in money?
Opinion: The Utah Rules of Professional Conduct permit an attorney to accept payment for legal services in a form other than money. All arrangements for payment of an attorney’s fees, however, must comply with the applicable provisions of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct concerning fees and the attorney-client relationship.
Issue No. 2: Is it ethical for an attorney to barter legal services through a barter exchange?

Opinion: Although an attorney’s bartering of legal services through a barter exchange is not prohibited per se by the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, such bartering is unethical if the attorney’s conduct or the structure, terms, or conditions of the attorney’s arrangements with the barter exchange violate any of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct.
Analysis: The request for this opinion asks generally, without presenting specific facts and circumstances, whether attorneys ethically may receive payment for legal services other than in money, such as through barter exchanges. The request also asks whether Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 50, issued August 25, 1978, is still valid, noting that questions concerning an attorney’s participation in barter exchanges are of continuing interest in Utah.
Payment of Attorneys’ Fees Other Than in Money. Nothing in the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct requires that an attorney’s fees be paid in money. The fundamental requirement of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct is that an attorney’s fees must be reasonable.1
Rule 1.5(b) requires a written communication concerning the basis or rate of an attorney’s fee when the lawyer has not regularly represented the client and it is reasonably foreseeable that total attorneys’ fees to the client will exceed $750.00. A determination of whether the $750.00 threshold will be met in a particular case requires that attorneys’ fees be evaluated in terms of their dollar amount.
However, Rule 1.5 does not require that payment for legal services be made in money. The following official comment to Rule 1.5 states that an attorney may accept property in payment for fees:
A lawyer may accept property in payment for services, such as an ownership interest in an enterprise, providing this does not involve acquisition of a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of the litigation contrary to Rule 1.8(j). However, a fee paid in property instead of money may be subject to special scrutiny because it involves questions concerning both the value of the services and the lawyer’s special knowledge of the value of the property.
As this comment illustrates, no arrangement for payment of an attorney’s fees, whether in money, property or services, should violate any of the prohibited transaction rules of Rule 1.8. For example, an arrangement for payment of attorneys’ fees that involves the acquisition of a pecuniary interest adverse to a client in violation of Rule 1.8(a) is prohibited. Any arrangement for payment of attorneys’ fees that involves giving the lawyer literary or media rights in violation of Rule 1.8(d) is prohibited. Accepting reimbursement of costs other than in money in a way that provides for an improper advance of costs or expenses could also violate the financial assistance restrictions of Rule 1.8(e).
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