South Carolina State Bar Ethics, Advisory Opinion 14-01

Ethics Advisory Committee

Topic: Fees and Duty of Confidentiality – Matching Services

The Committee was asked to opine on the ethical propriety of following arrangement: potential client pays a fee to a group XYZ which acts as an attorney matching service for family court matters. XYZ pays $800 to attorney to consult with the client, and attend one hearing. Thereafter, the attorney is to bill the client at his/her normal hourly rate. Attorney knows, before taking the case, that further legal services will be required for a typical retainer of $ 2,500.00. XYZ requires that the attorney sign a contract for services that prevents discussing with clients the particulars of the agreement, including payment, between attorney and XYZ. The Committee opined that this arrangement is not proper based on Rule 1.8(f). Attorney cannot enter into this agreement with XYZ because XYZ would be a third party payer and when a third party pays attorneys fee an attorney is required to obtain informed consent from the client pursuant to Rule 1.8(f). Because here attorney is unable to obtain the client’s informed consent because of the non-disclosure provision contained in the agreement with XYZ, attorney cannot ethically accept this arrangement. In addition, as clear from Comment 12 to Rule 1.8, these types of fee arrangement may create a conflict of interest (Rule 1.7).

Relevant Law: South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7, 1.8(f)

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