September 21, 2010
Fee Not Simple
The Maryland Court of Appeals has imposed a public reprimand of an attorney for misconduct in connection with his representation of a Turkish national whose brother had died in the United States. The siblings were not close and the attorney (who had dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship) had done considerable work to establish that the client was the sole heir. The deceased had three pieces of real property in Virginia (where the attorney was not admitted) that passed automatically to the client.
The client had limited funds and agreed to pay the attorney 15% of the proceeds of the sale of the real property as his fee. The client complained about a 6% broker's fee that was added on to the attorney's fees. Bar Counsel filed charges that included allegations that the fees were excessive.
The court agreed with the circuit court that Bar Counsel had not established that the fee was excessive in violation of Rule 1.5. The fee was fair at the time that the parties entered into the agreement. The attorney did not pressure the client to later alter the terms to his advantage.
The court found that the attorney had failed to communicate with the client and failed to return the client's file when the representation terminated.
Two judges concurred in the result, but raised concern that the fees charged were far in excess of fees for comparable work in Maryland. (Mike Frisch)
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