Legal Ethics

Lawyer Suspended 30 Days for $2,500 Minimum Fee Charge

A retired Iowa lawyer has received a 30 day suspension for charging a $2,500 nonrefundable retainer, even though he spent less than four hours of work on the case.

The Iowa Supreme Court imposed the suspension on Friday against retired Clinton lawyer William Vilmont, report the Quad-City Times and the Legal Profession Blog. Vilmont spent only 3.7 hours on the case, including an hour spent to provide an accounting.

Vilmont entered into a fee agreement with a client accused on a state charge of enticement of a minor. The agreement provided for charges of $225 an hour, with a minimum fee of $2,500 to be paid with a retainer, according to the supreme court opinion. The state dropped the charge a few weeks after the arrest when a federal charge was filed. At that time, the client found a different lawyer to represent him. Vilmont withdrew the retainer from a trust account five days later, with no notice to the client.

According to the opinion, Vilmont was “uncooperative and unapologetic” at a disciplinary hearing. “Almost defiantly, but without support, he maintained the fee he charged was not unreasonable,” the opinion said.

“The amount of the fee charged and collected by Vilmont for performing the limited and insignificant services in representing his client was, without question, unreasonable,” the opinion found. A reasonable fee under the circumstances would have been about $600, the court said.

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