Thursday, November 8, 2018
A justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered a suspension of an attorney for misconduct in three matters.
From the summary on the Board of Bar Overseers web page is a finding of "failing to provide fee agreements that complied with ethical rules" anong other conclusions.
The problem was a "hybrid" contingent fee
In the second case, a client retained the respondent in connection with a civil claim arising from an automobile repair. The respondent prepared, and he and the client executed, a hybrid flat fee agreement and contingent fee agreement that did not comply with the Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(c). The client paid $500 at the commencement of the representation. Over the course of the litigation, the respondent failed to communicate adequately with the client and failed to act with diligence in connection with the litigation. The client terminated the respondent’s services and requested a refund of her fee. The respondent failed to respond or to refund the unearned portion of the fee.
In the third case, the client retained the respondent to represent him in collecting a judgment from a former tenant. The respondent prepared, and he and the client executed, a
hybrid flat fee agreement contingent fee agreement that did not comply with Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(c). and the client paid $1,500 at the commencement of the representation. During the litigation, the respondent failed to serve the defendant with the collection action. The defendant died suddenly and the client tried for several weeks to contact the respondent. The respondent failed to respond. The case was dismissed for lack of service of process. The client requested that the respondent refund the $1,500 and return his file. The respondent failed to respond or to refund the unearned portion of the fee.
Massachusetts Rule 1.5(c) provides in pertinent part
A fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by paragraph (d) or other law. Except for contingent fee arrangements concerning the collection of commercial accounts and of insurance company subrogation claims, a contingent fee agreement shall be in writing and signed in duplicate by both the lawyer and the client within a reasonable time after the making of the agreement.