A ruling made on Scott R. Larson, P.C. v. Grinnan by the Colorado Court of Appeals onJune 15 has delivered an opinion that includes a thorough interpretation of the meaning of joint responsibility in the Colorado Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Because of the thoroughness of the court’s analysis, the ruling may have significant implications for future interpretations and attorney ethics.
The underlying case began after Michael Grinnan, a general practitioner, referred a personal injury case concerning a propane explosion to Scott Larson, who ultimately obtained settlements from the case’s three defendants. After referring the case toLarson, Grinnan was named an associated counsel and acted as a liaison for the plaintiffs, whom he knew personally, to help them understand the proceedings. When the case concluded, Larson and Grinnan did not agree on how to divide the contingency fee Larson received from the plaintiffs.
Ben Aisenberg, a Denver attorney with a background in ethics who served as a mediator on the case in November 2015 before hearings began, said the key takeaway from Larson v. Grinnan is the need for two lawyers to have a clear agreement on the division of responsibility and services tobe performed in order to avoid fee disputes. Anagreement, believes, will hold binding in court unless the fee division is not reasonable. Larson and Grinnan did not have a clear agreement.
“Under our rules of ethics, the fee must be reasonable,” Aisenberg said. “So that ifanattorney signs an agreement with another attorney that he’ s to get, let’ s say, 10 percent, but doesn’ t doany work, anything of that nature, I think the attorney he referred ittowould have a right to say, ‘ You’ renot entitled to10 percent.’”