October 4, 2009
Not Every Violation Warrants Discipline
The Louisiana Supreme Court has dismissed a disciplinary matter in which its Attorney Disciplinary Board had proposed public reprimand. The matter involved representation of a client with a redhibition claim against Ford Motor Company. The retainer agreement allowed the lawyer to be paid at an hourly rate with any fee contingent on recovery. The case settled for $10,000 with the client receiving $5,400 of the proceeds. The client complained to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, claiming he was unaware of the total amount of the settlement. A hearing committee proposed dismissal of the ensuing charges. The disciplinary board disagreed, concluding that the attorney's failure to keep contemporaneous time records meant that the client's consent to the arrangement was not fully informed.
The court found any violation to be de minimis and noted that not every violation of the Rules warrants professional discipline. Based on the hours worked, the attorney had reduced his fee from $7,900 to $4,000. The lawyer acted without improper or dishonest motive. The change in fee charges were for the client's benefit. However, the court reminded lawyers of the need to obtain informed consent to changes in a fee calculation.
The court also held that there is no ethical ban to the combined hourly/contingency fee agreement. (Mike Frisch)
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