Most of us have a lawyer that handles general issues arising from routine business issues or have alternatively used in the past. This is generally the first licensed professional that one reaches out to should they become the subject of a criminal investigation. The hope is that the Council that they had placed their trust in for prior matters will be best qualified to refer a criminal defense attorney proficient in our justice system. This seems logical and in most circumstances may result in one’s obtaining competent representation for their defense. There are some things to consider, however, before you rely solely on one lawyers recommendation as to who is best to represent you.
Financial incentive for referring attorneys
When one lawyer sends a case to another who is more proficient in a certain area practice, the issue of referral fees is certain to come up between the two. In Florida, it is legal for the referring attorney to be paid up to 25% of the legal fee paid to the lawyer who ultimately handles the case. In some circumstances, the paying client has no idea that the attorney first contacted is profiting from the amount paid to the lawyer or firm ultimately handling their case. Ethically, however, the client is should not only be informed of the fee splitting arrangement but also consent to that compensation arrangement. It is always advisable when seeking a referral from a lawyer or law firm to inquire as to any potential fee splitting arrangements.
Does the referring attorney have to assist with representation?
Technically, yes. Referring attorneys are expected to assist in working on the client’s case. However, assisting can arguably be the initial discussion with the client seeking specialized counsel. Regardless of what level of participation the referring attorney provides, it should be noted that by accepting a co-counsel or referral fee, that licensed professional is responsible for any malpractice claims that may arise from the litigation.
Florida rules regarding referral fees and practices
In determining if a co-counsel relationship exists, the court should look to see if the lawyers have established a special partnership agreement for the purpose of the specific case or matter. If such an agreement does exist, it must provide for a sharing of services or responsibility and the fee division is based upon a division of the services to be rendered or the responsibility assumed. It is contemplated that a co- counsel situation would exist where a division of responsibility is based upon, but not limited to, the following: (a) based upon geographic considerations, the lawyers agree to divide the legal work, responsibility, and representation in a convenient fashion. Such a situation would occur when different aspects of a case must be handled in different locations; (b) where the lawyers agree to divide the legal work and representation based upon their particular expertise in the substantive areas of law involved in the litigation; or (c) where the lawyers agree to divide the legal work and representation along established lines of division, such as liability and damages, causation and damages, or other similar factors.
Where a non-lawyer refers a case to a lawyer or law firm?
Lawyers are prohibited from paying referral fees to nonlawyers under the Florida bar rules and can be disciplined for doing so. In fact, no lawyer shall give anything of value to a person for recommending their services.
William Moore is a criminal defense attorney who is been practicing in Broward County Florida for over 20 years. Should you have questions about this article want to know more about attorney referral fees contact him at 954-523-5333.