Ethics Opinions

Opinion No. 77-4

April 1977

Summary: An attorney may properly prepare and distribute to clients (and to prospective clients on request) a dignified "Schedule of Minimum Fees" charged by his office for certain services.

Facts: Subsequent to the withdrawal of the suggested fee schedule by the Massachusetts and other bar associations, a law firm prepared for its clients a schedule of minimum fees and advised them that it would bill monthly for work in progress. The firm expressed the hope that these practices "will be mutually beneficial and lead to a better understanding between client and lawyer. We invite you to discuss frankly with us any questions regarding our services or our fees." The schedule stated that fees would be based upon several factors and explained the criteria set forth in DR 2-106. It then specified minimum fees for certain services such as the preparation of deeds, drafting partnership agreements, preparing income tax returns, court appearances and acting as attorney for a decedent's estate.

The firm established this schedule in accordance with a suggestion made by the executive director of the Missouri State Bar Association in the journal of that association April 1973 and continued to use the schedule until the issuance of our Opinion No. 76-27. The firm noted that Opinion No. 76-27 stated specifically that the guide there under consideration did not contain dollar amounts. It asks whether showing dollar amounts is a violation of ethics.

Discussion: Numerous articles and journals and studies by bar associations across the nation have shown that one of the most prolific sources of disagreement between lawyer and client is a misunderstanding about the attorney's fee. These studies have also shown that when fees are discussed at the first meeting between lawyer and client, and fee arrangements are agreed upon, the client's mind is eased and the conduct of the matter is simplified.

There was no intent in our Opinion No. 76-27 to prohibit the preparation and distribution to clients of a dignified and truthful brochure setting forth a fee schedule prepared by a lawyer or a law firm and applicable to the services by that lawyer or firm, provided that the fees are determined in accordance with the requirements of DR 2-106. Such a schedule may also be distributed to prospective clients upon request. We note that a similar result has been reached by the Ethics Committee of the New York State Bar (Opinion No. 441, August 11, 1976).

Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1977. As stated in the Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.