Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion #1986/7-11
September 8, 1987
It is unclear under the present Rules whether the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service may base its referral fee on a percentage of the participating lawyer’s total fee. (Rules 1.5; 1.5(f); 5.4(a); 7.2(c))
The New Hampshire Bar Association operates a “full fee” Lawyer Referral and Information Service which refers a prospective client to a lawyer willing to handle the client’s case. Presently this service is funded by a $30 per referral contribution, split equally between the client and the lawyer. This funding mechanism does not produce sufficient revenue to cover the administrative costs. A proposal has been made to alter the funding mechanism so that the participating lawyers would remit a percentage of their total fee received to the Service. The Service has asked whether such a funding scheme would be ethical under Rule 1.5 of the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct. The Service has also asked whether the answer would be affected by the following specific factors:
- The amount of the percentage.
- The existence of a standard cap on the amount remitted in every case.
- A limit on the gross amounts collected by the Service to equal its administrative costs.
- A prohibition against the participating lawyers’ raising their total fee to pass along the additional cost to their clients.