You represent a client in a personal injury matter on a contingency basis, and have received the sum of $300.00 from the other side, in payment of counsel fees sanctions imposed by the Court as a result of a discovery motion. You have inquired as to how to handle the receipt, i.e., remit to client, keep as fee, divide with client, or otherwise. Until you decide, the amount is being kept in your escrow account.
The only Rules of Professional Conduct which seem to bear upon this question are Rules 1.5 and 5.4. Rule 1.5 is the rule on fees, and, generally speaking, binds you to the agreement you made. Assuming that you have complied with the rule substantively and ministerially, the Committee is of the opinion that you could not take the $300.00 as an additional fee, that is, as a fee in addition to your stated percentage of the ultimate recovery. You made your arrangement and must live up to it.
Rule 5.4(a) precludes you from splitting a fee with a non-lawyer. This presumably includes your client. Hence, we are also of the opinion that you should not divide it with your client. This was an award of counsel fees to you, not to your client.
In Guidance Committee informal opinion 93-248-T, a lawyer representing a woman in a divorce case on a fixed fee basis of $500.00 received an award of $1500.00 in counsel fees, and, in response to the client's demand for the money, the Committee opined that the attorney should not give the client more than a refund of $500.00 from that award.
Analogously, in answer to your inquiry, the Committee has the opinion that you may retain the $300.00 on account of your fee, giving credit to your client for that amount in the ultimate distribution. If no recovery is made you may retain it, as a court has awarded it to you.
Be advised that this opinion is limited to personal injury contingent fee cases, and is not to be considered as applicable in situations where statutory attorney fees are available to counsel.
The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.