Issue: Under Illinois law, are agreements between lawyers and non-lawyers to split fees generally held to violate public policy?
Area of Law:
; Split Fees; Lawyer; Nonlawyer; Agreement; Legal Fee; Service
Under Illinois law, agreements to split fees between a lawyer and a nonlawyer are generally against public policy. See In re Marriage of Steinberg, 302 Ill.App.3d 845, 857 (1998). This is embodied in Rule 5.4, which states that a lawyer "shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer," nor shall she "permit a person who recommends, employs or pays [her] to render legal services for another to direct or regulate [her] professional judgment in rendering such legal services." [regref]Ill. S. Ct. Rs. Prof’l Conduct R. 5.4(a), (c) (eff. Jan. 1, 2010)[/regref].
The purpose for this policy, and for Rule 5.4, is to prevent an attorney from being tempted to devote less time and attention to those clients whose fees she must share, as well as to prevent a layperson who might have an ulterior motive from recommending a certain attorney based on that layperson’s own financial interest rather than the attorney’s skill and credentials. See Steinberg, 302 Ill.App.3d at 857 (citing O’Hara v. Ahlgren, Blumenfeld & Kempster, 127 Ill.2d 333, 343 (1989)).