Contingent Fees and Structured Settlements
Opinion rules that an attorney's contingent fee in a case resolved by a structured settlement should, if paid in a lump sum, be calculated in terms of the settlement's present value.
Client hired Lawyer to represent him concerning a medical malpractice claim and agreed to pay him 40% of the amount recovered. Lawyer negotiated a structured settlement which will pay Client a substantial amount of money in each of the next ten years. Are there any ethical considerations which would prevent Lawyer from collecting his entire fee immediately, rather than taking a percentage of each annual payment to the Client? If Lawyer may collect his entire fee immediately, is it proper for Lawyer to calculate his fee without discounting Client's settlement to present value?
Rule 2.6(a) provides that, "A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee." Generally speaking, it is necessary to examine all relevant facts and circumstances relating to a fee and the legal services for which it is charged in order to make a determination as to whether it is "clearly excessive." For that reason, the Ethics Committee has generally refrained from adopting per se rules prohibiting certain types of agreements or methods of computation. Nevertheless, the committee is of the opinion that where an attorney is entitled to receive a contingent fee calculated as a percentage of any amount recovered and arrangements are made for the payment of sums certain over a prolonged period of time in the form of a structured settlement, the attorney may collect immediately only the prescribed percentage of the total settlement reduced to its present value.