Thursday, July 16, 2009
An attorney who joined a law firm had an agreement that the firm would pay him additional compensation for fees generated on matters he referred to the firm. He thereafter referred a case to the firm. When he left the firm and returned to his former firm (Wilson Elser), he did not receive compensation for the referral. The matter had come from Wilson Elser and was referred due to an apparent conflict of interest. The departing attorney brought an action against the law firm and prevailed in arbitration. The law firm appealed the arbitration award.
The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the award. The court rejected the suggestion that payment to the referring attorney violated the Rules of Professional Conduct because of the conflict of interest of Wilson Elser:
There never was a finding that the plaintiff had ever represented the client in the [referred] matter for his new firm. Compensation was owed to the plaintiff on the basis of the plaintiff's referring the...matter to the defendant, not for representing the client.
The arbitrator had correctly concluded that the ethics rules do not prohibit payment under circumstances where the lawyer receiving the fee later rejoins the firm that sent the case along due to a conflict. (Mike Frisch)