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Keen CA State Bar focus: fee splitting with non-attorney partners

Murky.

That might logically be one apt adjective relevant to the parameters of so-called “non-attorney fee splitting” in California.

State Bar authorities have a problem with any scenario in which a licensed California attorney shares fees with a nonlawyer in a client matter.

That concern is understandable, of course. Competent client representation presupposes assistance from an individual who has successfully completed years of professional training and is officially licensed to practice law. Persons who fall short of such attainments are obviously not up to the task. The state’s prohibition against them practicing law and its tandem bar precluding attorneys from splitting fees with them is both logical and well-placed.

Bar action spotlighting non-attorney fee sharing was recently on display in a disciplinary matter involving one Los Angeles lawyer accused of violating professional rules of conduct applicable to fee sharing with a non-practitioner.

That case clearly spotlighted multiple instances where the attorney impermissibly gave client money to a nonlawyer third party and/or allowed staff members within that entity to collect and keep client funds. The attorney admitted to wrongdoing (in prior matters as well) and was slapped with a one-year license suspension.

Not all matters involving fee splitting are as clear, though. Sometimes the line between a third party’s assisting a lawyer and that party actually engaging in the practice of law can be blurry. The State Bar acknowledges that. A recent article on the subject matter notes that California legal regulators are presently considering approval of fee splitting “in certain circumstances.”

We underscore the complexity that often attaches in attorney disciplinary matters before the bar on our website at the Century Law Group. Our attorneys provide proven and aggressive license-defense representation to California lawyers from multiple legal offices spanning the state.

We welcome contacts to the firm and the opportunity to work diligently on behalf of diverse and valued professional license holders facing challenges from regulatory authorities.

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