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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.


Pennsylvania Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - Rule 5.4

[1] The provisions of this Rule express traditional limitations on sharing fees. These limitations are to protect the lawyer’s professional independence of judgment.

[2] Where someone other than the client pays the lawyer’s fee or salary, or recommends employment of the lawyer, that arrangement does not modify the lawyer’s obligation to the client. As stated in paragraph (c), such arrangements should not interfere with the lawyer’s professional judgment.

[3] Paragraph (a)(4) incorporates the authorization for the sale of a law practice pursuant to Rule 1.17. Fees may be shared between a lawyer purchasing a law practice and the estate or representative of the lawyer when a law practice is sold.

[4] Paragraph (a)(5) adds a new dimension to the current Rule by specifically permitting sharing of fees with a nonprofit organization. It is a practice approved in ABA Formal Opinion 93-374.

[5] These Rules do not restrict the organization of a private law firm to certain specified forms, such as a general partnership or a professional corporation. It is permissible to organize a private law firm using any form of association desired, including, without limitations such nontraditional forms as a limited partnership, registered limited liability partnership, limited liability company or business trust, so long as all of the restrictions in paragraph (d) are satisfied.

[6] Paragraph (d)(1) recognizes that the owners of a private law firm may choose to organize their firm in such a way that it has more than one level of ownership such as, for example, a partnership composed of or including professional corporations. An ownership structure with more than one level will be permissible as long as all of the beneficial owners (as opposed to record owners) are lawyers, subject to the exception for estate administration.

[7] Underlying the restriction in paragraph (d)(4) is a recognition that there are a variety of organizational forms that may be used by a law firm that provide some level of protection from personal liability for their owners. The use of such a form of organization is permissible so long as the limitation on liability provided by that form is no more extensive than that available through the professional corporation form. See 15 Pa.C.S. § 2925. Implicit in paragraph (d)(4) is a recognition that, so long as the owners have the personal liability preserved by the professional corporation law, a limitation on other personal liability is appropriate and should be respected. The result in First Bank & Trust Co. v. Zagoria, 250 Ga. 844, 302 S.E.2d 674 (1983), and similar cases is rejected.

[8] Although the last sentence of subsection (d) recognizes that the restrictions in paragraph (d)(1), (2) and (4) are not properly applicable to a lawyer employed in the legal department of a corporation or other organization, it is still important to preserve the professional independence of a lawyer in that situation and thus the restriction in paragraph (d)(3) will apply to such a lawyer.