Legal Ethics

ABA Opinion Gives Guidance on Changing Legal Fee Arrangements During Representation

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Lawyers aren’t expected to practice year after year without raising their fees. And circumstances, of course, can change unexpectedly. So it’s often permissible for an attorney to change legal fee arrangements during an ongoing representation, as long as the change is reasonable and consented to by the client.

However, other provisions may be required or simply recommended to make sure the change complies with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, explained the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in an ethics opinion (PDF) announced today in a press release.

The Model Rules are used by many states as a basis for their own attorney ethics rules.

Disclosure in the initial fee agreement that billing rates may change in the future, for example, could rarely, if ever, be a mistake, according to the opinion.

And while lawyers may also require a client to provide new or additional security for payment under an existing fee agreement, they should be aware that this is considered a business transaction with a client that requires compliance with additional ethical standards.

For more details about what is required, read the full opinion, which is known as Formal Opinion 11-458 (PDF).

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Changing Times: Fee Agreements May Be Modified, But Only for Good Reasons” “”If Secret Email Surfaces, ABA Opinion Says Opponent Alert Isn’t a Must—But Local Rules May Differ”

Last updated at 6:32 p.m. to link to ABA press release.

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