Lawyer to Lawyer Referrals
There can be uncertainty about attorney referral, or co-counsel, fees. Some attorneys and law firms are uncertain about what is ethical and allowable, while others frequently co-counsel lawyers in personal injury cases.
Burger Law co-counsels with lawyers throughout the Midwest in personal injury cases. Mutually beneficial attorney referral relationships are built on open communication, transparency, dedication to teamwork, and quality service to the client. Our attorneys have had excellent results for grateful clients resulting in substantial referral fees for co-counseling attorneys.
Below, Burger Law takes a closer look at attorney referral fees and explains how lawyers can have successful attorney referral agreements that deliver superior results.
How Does Burger Law Handle Attorney Referrals?
An attorney referral service is the act of attorneys referring business to other lawyers within their specific practice area. When this happens, the referring attorney will likely receive a lawyer referral fee from the other attorney. Below are some of the different ways that Burger Law practices attorney referral with lawyers in St. Louis and throughout the Midwest:
- Direct Referral: We gladly collaborate with other attorneys who refer clients for representation in accordance with Ethics Rule 1.5(e).
- Co-Counsel: We specialize in complex personal injury litigation and are happy to collaborate with you to the degree that you see necessary. We will take on an advisory role, work with you on equal terms, or take the lead until the client receives full and fair compensation.
- Trial Counsel: We understand that you might not need outside assistance until your case is set for trial. We will use our knowledge, experienced staff, and resources to help prepare for a successful trial.
Our attorneys invite you to leverage our experience, resources, and network to get the best results for your clients. The client always remains yours, and our attorneys promise to be transparent – you can see the file or know what’s going on at any time. If you are interested in connecting, call Gary Burger at 314-542-2222 or 618-272-2222, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are ten things to know about co-counseling with Burger Law:
1. We work under the referring lawyer’s fee agreement. No one knows the client like the referring lawyer. She and the client arranged a fee agreement that worked best given the client’s legal issue.
2. Division of fees does not have to be proportional to services rendered. Rule 4-1.5(e) permits lawyers to divide a fee either on the basis of the proportion of services they render or if each lawyer assumes responsibility for the representation as a whole.
Comment 7 to the rule notes that “Joint responsibility for the representation entails financial and ethical responsibility for the representation as if the lawyers were associated in a partnership.”
3. Our fees are reasonable. Rule 4-1.5(a) requires that lawyers charge fees that are reasonable under the circumstances. The same rule requires that expenses for which the client will be charged must be reasonable. At Burger Law, we keep our fees reasonable and our costs low.
4. We take cases from out-of-state attorneys. The Missouri Bar expressly allows Missouri attorneys to serve as co-counsel and split fees with an attorney not licensed in Missouri. Informal Opinion No. 2018-05:
Like in all co-counsel scenarios, sharing a fee with an out-of-state attorney is allowed when the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or if each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation; if the client agrees to the association in writing; and the total fee is reasonable.
5. Transparency and open communication with clients are essential. Enforceable fee-sharing agreements require the client to be notified of the agreement in writing. Rule 4-1.5(e); Londoff v. Vuylsteke, 996 S.W.2d 553, 558-59 (Mo. App. E.D. 1999).
While informing the client of how much of the fee each attorney will receive is not required, Rule 4-1.5, Comment 7, doing so is a good way to foster trust and positive relationships with your clients.
6. To be enforceable, fee-splitting agreements must comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Missouri Court of Appeals has held that “an agreement to share attorney fees that do not comply with Rule 4-1.5(e) is unenforceable.” Neilson v. McCloskey, 186 S.W.3d 285, 28 (Mo. App. E.D. 2005). At Burger Law, we have the experience to make fee-splitting agreements that are fair and enforceable for the attorneys involved.
7. We can take your case to trial. At Burger Law, we understand that you might not need outside assistance until your case is set for trial. Rule 4-1.5(e) specifically contemplates that lawyers may need special help in taking a case to trial. See Rule 4.15(e), Comment 7.
8. We can help with the cost of litigation. Complex personal injury, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation cases often entail a lot of up-front expenses. At Burger Law, we generally finance cases and pay all expenses.
9. We can help with expert witnesses. Finding the right expert witness can make or break your case. We can help find, depose, and examine the expert that will help maximize the client’s recovery.
10. We are the lawyers other lawyers trust. Attorneys regularly turn to Burger Law to serve as co-counsel for their clients. We present CLEs to help teach other attorneys the ins and outs of civil litigation.
At any given time, a large percentage of our practice is made up of cases involving car wrecks, truck crashes, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and workers’ compensation claims.
What Lawyer Referral Fees are Allowed/Disallowed?
Like all things, there is a right way and a wrong way to practice lawyer referral fees. The American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct establishes clear rules for attorney referral fees, which have been adopted verbatim in most states.
The ABA Model Rules regarding lawyer referral fees ensure that attorneys aren’t motivated to refer clients without doing any of the work. Lawyer referrals tainted by greed or bribery can harm victims that need fair legal help and hurt the legal industry as a whole.
Missouri ethics rules approve splitting fees between lawyers under Rule 1.5(e). This facilitates getting the client assigned to the best lawyer for the type of case. Fee divisions are appropriate if: the division is in proportion to the work done or both lawyers/firms assume joint responsibility; the client agrees and this agreement is confirmed in writing; and the total fee is reasonable.
Burger Law pays generous fees to referring counsel in civil and workers’ compensation cases. Our role with co-counsel varies from no involvement to working the whole case up and trying it with the referring lawyer. Most lawyers like to keep in communication with us and the client. Referring fees vary with different levels of participation, but we typically finance the case and pay all expenses.
Lawyer Referral Agreement Best Practices
At any given time, a large percentage of our practice at Burger Law is made up of cases involving car wrecks, truck crashes, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and workers’ compensation claims. If you have a client with a complex case in one of these practice areas, our attorneys can create a fair agreement.
In an attorney referral agreement, both parties are responsible for the case. As such, it’s in the best interests of both attorneys to use the following best practices before entering into a joint referral agreement:
- Clear Expectations – clear cut rules about what each attorney is expected to do in regards to the client’s case. For example, is only one attorney handling the case? Are both? Or, is one attorney simply helping if the case goes to trial? To avoid confusion and mishandling, both attorneys’ responsibilities need to be established up front
- Established Referral Fee Percentage – who is financing the case and paying for out-of-pocket expenses for the case? What percentage of the client’s fee will each attorney receive? Burger Law typically finances all referral agreement cases, but this should be discussed before establishing a referral agreement
- Trusted Network – ABA Model Rules state that before a lawyer referral agreement is made, you must make sure that you are referring a competent, trusted attorney. If an attorney is referred but makes a terrible mistake when handling the client’s case, both attorneys can be held liable for malpractice
- Honesty and Good Faith – all agreed upon fees must be paid as per the referral fee agreement. If an attorney doesn’t abide by an attorney fee agreement that was previously agreed upon, this can damage your legal reputation and chances of receiving future attorney referrals
If you have a client with a complex personal injury case, use best practice for attorney referral agreements, and want experienced and competent assistance in handling the matter, contact Burger Law at 314-542-2222 or 618-272-2222. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.