Bar Counsel Notes: Notice Regarding Fee Arbitration

Lawyer recalls hearing some casual mention by other members of the Bar that she is ethically required to give some form of formal notice about the existence of the Fee Arbitration Commission before suing a client for unpaid fees. She has looked throughout the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct but has found absolutely nothing on this issue. Is there such a Rule?

Yes, but it is a procedural rule contained within Maine Bar Rule 9(e)(5)(E) (Notice of Client's Right to Arbitrate Legal Fees). Lawyer should therefore refer to the specific terms and requirements of that Rule, which does require such a written notice to be mailed by Lawyer to the client at least 30 days before service or filing of a civil complaint for unpaid fees. The Rule includes a script of the language that must be included in that notice. Lawyer should also note that although this Rule is not contained within the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, a failure to comply with any Maine Bar Rule is professional misconduct under M. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(a).

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.