This is my last post in a series of posts on how the how the ABA Model Rule of Prof. Responsibility (RPC) affect what lawyers can and cannot bill for fees. In my first post on the subject, I noted the implicated RPC that are set out in the ABA Ethics Opinion 93-379 (1993) on “Billing for Professional Fees, Disbursements and Other Costs.” The PRC impacting how lawyers bill include:
- 1.1 Competence
- 1.2 Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority
- 1.3 Diligence
- 1,4 Communications
- 1.5 Fees
- 1.8 Conflict of Interest
- 3.2 Expediting Litigation
- 5.2 Responsibilities of A Subordinate Lawyer
- 8.3 Reporting Prof. Misconduct
Throughout this series of blog posts on the RPC that impact lawyer billing, I hope that I have been able to adequately convey that there are many RPC that can be applicable. In fact, there are so many potentially applicable RPC to fee billing that I know many lawyers look at the RPC as a series of tripwires they need to navigate through when it comes to billing.
Indeed, if you study the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, you will note that stronger disciplinary measures are recommended in disciplinary cases involving attorneys found guilty of an ethics violation involving a client’s money. For as I tell attorneys in my ethics seminars, “the three things that will get you into the most trouble with the disciplinary authorities are: doing drugs, having sex with a client, or messing with a client’s money.”
But rather than look upon the RPC negatively when it comes to billing, I believe all lawyers should look upon the RPC as their ally from a disciplinary standpoint. This is because of the philosophy of uniformity that underlies the original intent of the ABA Model RPC. That philosophy provides all lawyers with a uniform set of model rules that would be applicable in any state where their practice might cause them to set foot. Certainly even the smallest of law firms today may take on matters that cause them to either do work in another state or bill a client who lives in another state.
Thus it is that it is to all lawyers’ advantage to have their all their ethical responsibilities (including how they can ethically bill for fees and cost) judged by the same standards. So lawyers who are in compliance with the ethical rules in their home state when it comes to billing should not have to worry about whether how they bill will be judged differently in another state thereby exposing them to a possible misconduct charge.
Finally, although most non-lawyer clients are ignorant of the existence of the Model RPC, they nevertheless are the primary beneficiaries of protections the ABA Model RPC. This is because the Model RPC do exist not for the protection of lawyers, but for the protection of the public.
Need an expert opinion on disputed legal fees? Note that courts are dismissive of fee bill experts who do not correctly apply the Rules of Prof. Conduct in their expert opinions. See, e.g., Thomson Inc. v. Insurance Co. of North America, 11 N.E.3d 982 (Ind.App. 2014). Therefore, it is vital to use an expert who can correctly apply the Rules of Prof. Conduct. So turn to the only fee billing auditor & expert witness who has been a Chair of a State Bar Assoc. Legal Ethics Committee and has qualified in court as an expert on the Rules of Prof. Conduct.