Lawyers, Heed Your Own Advice and Write it Down

The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts recently amended its rules of professional conduct (as of January 1, 2013) to require lawyers to clearly communicate their fees to clients in writing. See an article by Bar Counsel Constance V. Vecchione, Counsel to the Mass. Board of Bar Overseers explaining the change. Long gone are the days when lawyers could send an invoice to their clients reading “For Professional Services Rendered” and then the amount owing. Clients deserve to know how much they are being charged and for what. In New York, Rule 1.5 does not require that the fee agreement be in writing (except in a few instances such as contingency fee matters or domestic relations matters). Rule 1.5(b) in New York reads in part:

A lawyer shall communicate to a client the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible. This information shall be communicated to the client before or within a reasonable time after commencement of the representation and shall be in writing where required by statute or court rule.

Hat tip to Massachusetts for amending the rule to make it clear that lawyers should heed their own advice. Write it down, good counselor, for everyone’s sake.