Wednesday, March 5, 2014

UPDATE on the proposed amendments to the Florida rules

Earlier today I posted a comment about proposed changes to the rules in Florida.  See here.  I just received the proposed new text and here are my comments.

First, the rule will use the following definitions:
(A) Retainer. A retainer is a sum of money paid to a lawyer to guarantee the lawyer's future availability. A retainer is not payment for past legal services and is not payment for future services. 
(B) Flat Fee. A flat fee is a sum of money paid to a lawyer for all legal services to be provided in the representation. A flat fee may be termed "non-refundable."  
(C) Advance Fee. An advanced fee is a sum of money paid to the lawyer against which the lawyer will bill the client as legal services are provided.
The choice of words is interesting.  The proposal is using the word "retainer" to mean what other jurisdictions call a "classic retainer" while it is using the words "advance fee" to define what others call a "security retainer."

The Comment to the rule explains the analysis related to the issue of whether a fee can be non refundable:
     A lawyer may require advance payment of a fee but is obliged to return any unearned portion. . . . A lawyer is not, however, required to return retainers that, pursuant to an agreement with a client, are not refundable. A nonrefundable retainer or nonrefundable flat fee is the property of the lawyer and should not be held in trust. If a client gives the lawyer a negotiable instrument that represents both an advance on costs plus either a nonrefundable retainer or a nonrefundable flat fee, the entire amount should be deposited into the lawyer's trust account, then the portion representing the earned nonrefundable retainer or nonrefundable flat fee should be withdrawn within a reasonable time. An advance fee must be held in trust until it is earned. Nonrefundable fees are, as all fees, subject to the prohibition against excessive fees.
Although I am not totally convinced the language used in the definitions is the best, as I said in my previous post, I think the analysis this proposal is much better than the one offered in many of the cases that have been decided on this issue.

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