Supreme Court of Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline Opinion 2009-9

SYLLABUS: If a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer retains an outside law firm to provide health care lien resolution services in a settled matter, the plaintiff’s lawyer may use professional judgment as to whether to charge the client for the service as part of the contingent fee or as an expense of litigation. Either way, the client’s consent to the outsourcing and the fee arrangement must be obtained prior to outsourcing the service. Either way, the fees and expenses must be reasonable, not excessive. Either way, the nature and basis of the fee arrangement must be communicated to the client and pursuant to Rule 1.5(c) a contingency fee agreement must be in writing. If the outsourced legal fee is included as part of a contingency fee, there is a division of fee among lawyers not in the same firm and that triggers the requirements of Rule 1.5(e). If the outsourced service is charged to the client as a litigation expense, the contingency fee rate must be appropriately set to not result in a duplicative and excessive legal fee charged to a client for a service that is billed separately as an expense.

This opinion addresses the proper way for a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer to bill a client when health care lien resolution services in a settled matter are outsourced to another law firm.