Charging a Legal Fee for Participation in the Fee Dispute Resolution Program
Opinion rules that a lawyer may not charge the client a legal fee for the time required to participate in the State Bar's fee dispute resolution program.
Rule 1.5(f) of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer with a fee dispute with a client to participate in the North Carolina State Bar's program of fee dispute resolution. The rule provides as follows:
(f) Any lawyer having a dispute with a client regarding any fee for legal services must: (1) make reasonable efforts to advise his or her client of the existence of the North Carolina State Bar's program of fee dispute resolution at least 30 days prior to initiating legal proceedings to collect the disputed fee; and (2) participate in good faith in the fee dispute resolution process if the client submits a proper request.
Client filed a fee dispute petition with the State Bar. Client's lawyer, Attorney A, sent his written response to the State Bar. Attorney A also added $1,150 to Client's bill for the time and expense associated with drafting the response to the fee dispute petition. May Attorney A charge Client for the time expended in preparing a response to a fee dispute petition or otherwise participating in the fee resolution program of the State Bar?
No. Participation in the fee dispute resolution program is not a legal service that the lawyer provides to the client. Rather, Rule 1.5(f) mandates participation in the program if requested by a client. Moreover, the rule mandates that a lawyer participate in good faith. The program minimizes the adverse effects of fee disputes with clients and helps to prevent the filing of grievances against lawyers. Participation is a professional responsibility that advances the interests of the public and the Bar, and it is improper for a lawyer to charge a client for the time expended to participate. See also 27 N.C.A.C 1D, Section .0702 ("The State Bar shall implement a fee dispute resolution program...which shall be offered to clients and their lawyers at no cost").