NUMBER 378 1948
Question. A and B are law partners. They have a written partnership agreement where under the two partners agree to share equally all fees and payments received from certain clients whose names are specifically set forth in the agreement, and the same arrangement applies to fees received from former clients of a former associate of the firm who died three years ago. In addition to the clients covered by the partnership agreement, each of the partners has a number of other clients, and neither partner shares in the fees which the other partner received from the clients not covered by the agreement.
Is there any impropriety in the use of the firm name A & B in the matters where the client is exclusively a client of B and where the entire fee is payable to B, and conversely in the case of clients of A who receives the entire fee from his exclusive clients? Or is it necessary that in matters where only one of the partners represents the client and is entitled to the fee, that that matter be handled only in the name of the individual partner without the firm name being used in the case?
Answer. In the opinion of the Committee, there is no impropriety in such use of the firm name.
The client has bargained for the services of A. In addition thereto he receives the responsibility of B. (See Attorney and Client, Cent. Dig, 231, 236.) We do not find any impropriety in thus giving to the client more than he has sought. “Law partnerships are substantially a matter of custom and convention; the privileges and duties incident to admission to the Bar are individual privileges and duties, and neither the advantage nor the burden can be transferred.” (This Committee’s answer in Opinion 197; see also Canon 33.)
It has not been the genenal understanding of members of the Bar of this city that every partner is expected to pass upon an opinion given by the firm or to participate in all of the services rendered by the firm. It is difficult to see how large firms could function if each member were required to participate actively in every transaction. If a client is not entitled to the opinion or services of all partners or of any specific partner, we do not see how he is injured by the fact that a partner not participating in the services rendered does not participate in the compensations. The right of one partner to retain the entire compensation would not diminish that partner’s desire or duty to render satisfactory service.
Apparently an arrangement by which certain partners do not participate in fees from designated clients is not unusual. So long as the client receives the services of the attorney he has retained and is not otherwise deceived, we see no impropriety in the conduct.