Informal Opinion Number: 2023-03

Adoption Date: April 26, 2023

Rules: 4-1.5, 4-5.4
Client-Lawyer Relationship, Law Firms and Associations
Confidentiality of Information, Professional Independence of a Lawyer
Subject: Fees - Division of Fees; Retirement (see also Inactive Status or Of Counsel)
Summary: payment of fees to retired lawyer

Question: Lawyer receives payment of attorney fee for awards in permanent total disability cases or work-related death cases, and those fees are for work previously performed. Lawyer is considering retirement and asks if Lawyer may continue to receive those payments of attorney fees for work previously performed, and if those future attorney fee payments may be made to Lawyer’s heirs or a trust?

Answer: Based on Rules 4-1.5 and 4-5.4(a), if the fees were earned prior to Lawyer’s retirement, Lawyer may continue to receive those payments after retirement. See also Missouri Informal Opinions 2010-0005, 20000195, and 930079. This is true whether the Lawyer retires and remains on active status with a full Category 1 license pursuant to Rule 6.01, or inactive status pursuant to Rule 6.03. See also Informal Opinions 2022-02 and 2020-02. Rule 4-5.4(a) states that “[a] A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer, except that: (1) an agreement by a lawyer with the lawyer’s firm, partner, or associate may provide for the payment of money, over a reasonable period of time after the lawyer’s death, to the lawyer’s estate or to one or more specified persons….” In this scenario, future payments may be made to Lawyer’s heirs so long as it is permissible at law. This office cannot provide legal advice on the appropriate legal mechanisms to do so, as that is an issue outside the Rules of Professional Conduct. See also Informal Opinion 2011-02.

Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.

To request an Informal Opinion, please visit: lawyers/requesting-an-informal-advisory-opinion/.

© Copyright 2023