Attorney Referral Fees in Louisiana - A Complete Guide


How to Ethically Share Fees With Other Louisiana Attorneys

Louisiana allows attorneys to divide fees when both attorneys render “meaningful legal services” to the client. The state’s ethics rules otherwise closely align with the ABA Model Rules.

Louisiana Rule

Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(e) provides the requirements for any division of fees. It states:

A division of fees between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:

  1. the client agrees in writing to the representation by all of the lawyers involved, and is advised in writing as to the share of the fee that each lawyer will receive;
  2. the total fee is reasonable;
  3. each lawyer renders meaningful legal services for the client in the matter.

Louisiana’s rules both closely follow and differ significantly from the ABA Model Rules. Where they are similar is in requiring that fees be reasonable, clients must be informed in writing, and that attorneys must disclose the share they are to receive. Where the rules vary is in the use of the term “meaningful legal services.”

Meaningful Legal Services

While the Model Rules require a division based on either the assumption of joint responsibility or work performed, Louisiana uses the term “meaningful legal services.” Louisiana does not provide a comment to give any definition or further understanding of this term.

A 2004 case, Dukes v. Matheny, while not explicitly referencing the term, does state that attorneys must provide legal services to a client to qualify for a fee under Rule 1.5(e). In the opinion, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit stated that:

Notably, the law does not provide a basis for recovering a fee for the referral of a legal matter by one attorney to another. To be entitled to recover a portion of the contingency fee generated in a referred matter, the referring attorney must participate in the representation of the client.

Dane S. Ciolino, a law professor at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, is the editor of the Louisiana Legal Ethics blog and the book Louisiana Legal Ethics: Standards and Commentary. Although not binding, his commentary provides additional context:

The LSBA proposed this departure from the model rule in an effort to curb the abuses attendant to ‘case brokering’ by some lawyers. That is, the rule seeks to protect clients from lawyers who simply ‘sign up’ clients, refer the cases to lawyers in exchange for a share of the fee, and then disappear until it is time to collect that share. As a result of this perceived problem, this rule requires that any lawyer who seeks to share the fee must not only ‘represent’ the client in the matter, but also perform some “meaningful” role. Note that work potentially can be ‘meaningful’ even if it is not time consuming or involves only client-relations activities.

Reasonable Fees

Any division must also include reasonable fees. LRPC Rule 1.5(a) states:

A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

  1. the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
  2. the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
  3. the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
  4. the amount involved and the results obtained;
  5. the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
  6. the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
  7. the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services;
  8. whether the fee is fixed or contingent

This rule is identical to the ABA Model Rule. The Comment to the ABA Model Rules states that the given factors are not exclusive. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances and facts of any given case.

Ethics Opinions

The Louisiana State Bar Association has an ethics advisory service. In addition, the LSBA publishes public ethics opinions, including two that refer to Rule 1.5(e).

In 2012, the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee issued Public Opinion 12-RPCC-018. This case looked at whether an attorney has an obligation to share fees with a suspended or disbarred attorney. The opinion is similar to those issued in other states that focus on the importance of timing: Any agreement under Rule 1.5(e) must have been entered into while all involved attorneys were active members of the bar.

The Committee stated that, while the suspended or disbarred attorney may be entitled to payment, their inability to practice law means they are incapable of “render[ing] meaningful legal services for the client in the matter.” In some cases, this may mean an attorney is entitled to a smaller share than what was proposed in the original agreement with the client.

Public Opinion 07-RPCC-013 stated that, when attorneys share office space, they must avoid financial entanglements. This includes any fee sharing, which must meet the requirements of Rule 1.5(e).


Attorneys in Louisiana may divide fees with another attorney when the fees are reasonable, client consent is obtained in writing, and they render “meaningful legal services.” As part of obtaining client agreement, attorneys must disclose the share they are to receive.

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