September 21, 2010
Get It In Writing
The Indiana Supreme Court has issued a public reprimand to an attorney for failing to adequately communicate the basis for his fee.
The attorney is experienced in EEOC matters. His practice is to charge an "engagement" fee of $750 while the EEOC is considering a claim. He charges an additional fee to bring a federal action, which is determined after the EEOC acts. In the case, the attorney left the full amount of the engagement fee blank at the outset and charged a total engagement fee of $5,000, but did not reduce the amount to writing. There was also a contingent fee that was written into the original retainer agreement.
The court concluded that the fee was reasonable and that the attorney had obtained a good result for the client. His effort to keep fees low for those who did not go to court "is certainly not to be discouraged." However, the retainer failed to disclose adequately the method by which the contingent fee would be calculated and thus violated the rule. The court did not find a violation of the business transaction with client rule.
Two justices dissented, "believing that the Commission did not prove a charged violation by clear and convincing evidence and thus that the Hearing Officer correctly found no violation..." (Mike Frisch)
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