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In the matter of Fordham

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Fordham (Defendant) allegedly charged an excessively high fee when representing a client charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A court may examine the difficulty of the issues presented in determining whether fees are clearly excessive, as well as the time and skill needed to perform the legal service properly, and the fee normally charged in the area for comparable services.

    Facts.

    An experienced litigator in a prestigious law firm in Boston, Fordham (Defendant), was hired by the father of an accused drunk driver to handle the case, however, he later refused to pay the fees charged.  Bar counsel charged Fordham (Defendant) with charging a clearly excessive fee under DR 2-106(A).  Defendant claimed that dishonesty, bad faith or over-reaching must be shown for an attorney to be disciplined.  The hearing committee found that Defendant’s fee fell within a safe harbor because an agreement existed between an attorney and a client, which protected from challenge the contention that the fee was clearly excessive.  Bar counsel (Plaintiff) appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.

    Issue.

    May a court examine the difficulty of the issues presented in determining whether fees are clearly excessive, as well as the time and skill needed to perform the legal service properly, and the fee normally charged in the area for comparable services?

    Held.

    (O’Connor, J.)  Yes.  A court may examine the difficulty of the issues presented in determining whether fees are clearly excessive, as well as the time and skill needed to perform the legal service properly, and the fee normally charged in the area for comparable services.  The hearing committee’s and the board’s determinations that a clearly excessive fee was not charged were not warranted.  Neither precedent nor the disciplinary rules preclude discipline even though the amount of time Fordham (Defendant) spent to educate himself and represent his client was spent in good faith and diligence.  The mandate of DR 2-106 (B), by referring to a lawyer of ordinary prudence, creates explicitly an objective standard by which fees are to be judged.  Dishonesty, bad faith or overreaching need not be established for discipline to be necessary.  A public reprimand is the appropriate sanction for charging a clearly excessive fee and is appropriate in this case.  Reversed.


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