Every lawyer knows that a good fee agreement is essential: it helps avoid disagreements between the attorney and client down the line, lists what the fees will and won't cover and clearly defines the parameters of the work to be done on the case.
They can be a chore to set up, though, and it's tough to know exactly how to set them up. Here, at least, is a cautionary tale showing that there are some types of fee agreements you definitely should not enter into. A (former) attorney in Florida, James Harvey Tipler, set up an
attorney-client relationship that was a little too good to be ethical.
Tipler represented an 18 year-old mother on charges
of aggravated assault and charged a flat fee of $2300. As part of the
fee arrangement, Tipler agreed to reduce the balance by $200 every time
the client had sex with him, or by $400 every time the client arranged
for another woman to have sex with him, according to an opinion by the
Florida Supreme Court.
Tipler and the client had sex, and the
client arranged trysts with another woman. As a result, Tipler ended up pleading guilty to solicitation of
prostitution. The Florida Supreme Court also disbarred him, but not
just for the fee agreement. The court found that Tipler:
". . . altered evidence and caused a witness to unknowingly give false
testimony. He has charged his clients excessive fees and stolen their
money. He has failed to maintain a trust account," wrote Chief Justice Peggy Quince.
"He has broken public confidence in the profession of the practice
of law by neglecting his clients and failing to prosecute their cases.
He has prejudiced the administration of justice by misrepresenting
facts to multiple courts. And, through the disciplinary process in
these cases, he has been dilatory, deceitful and evasive."
If you need help drafting a client fee agreement, try downloading one of the fee agreements offered by FindLaw.