November 1, 2007
Private Payment Permissible
A lawyer retained by the personal representative of a decedent's estate sent monthly bills to the client but did not seek payment, as his retainer agreement provided that he would wait until probate was completed. He would then seek payment from estate funds. The personal representative later discharged the lawyer and paid him out of her own funds. When probate was completed, the trial judge ordered the lawyer to return 25% of the fee because he had been paid without obtaining prior court approval.
The D.C. Courts of Appeals reversed the trial court. Prior approval is required only when the lawyer is paid from estate funds.The applicable statute cannot limit private payment without court supervision as a contrary holding "would abridge the right of competent adults to enter into otherwise-lawful economic transactions with other competent adults..." The court vacated an opinion it had previously issued in the case. (MIke Frisch)
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