Attorney-Client Relationship | Legal Ethics in Motion
by Professionl Responsibility and Ethics Program/ University of Miami Law School
Last month a Tampa attorney settled a case brought against her by the Florida Bar for, among other things, charging excessive fees. The Florida Bar’s complaint specifically stated that the attorney’s “hourly rate of $400 per hour for the services of law clerks was clearly excessive.” While the Florida Bar has brought claims against attorneys for unethical billing practices, it has generally avoided the question of law clerk fees. This case clarifies that, in the eyes of the Florida Bar, law clerks are non-lawyers and cannot be billed at the same rate as an attorney admitted to the state bar.
The Florida Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 4-1.5 states that when determining reasonable fees, a factor to be considered is “the time and labor required, the novelty, complexity, and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly.” When the attorney is participating only in overseeing or partially conducting research, the hours billed should not be the same as when he or she is performing the actions themselves. The Rules also consider all factors when determining an excessive fee. Here, the court found the total number of hours charged at $400 was clearly excessive as well.
Read more about the case here, and the Florida rules here.