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204 Pa. Code Rule 5.4. Professional Independence of a Lawyer.

Rule 5.4. Professional Independence of a Lawyer.

 (a)  A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer, except that:

   (1)  an agreement by a lawyer with the lawyer’s firm, partner, or associate may provide for the payment of money, over a reasonable period of time after the lawyer’s death, to the lawyer’s estate or to one or more specified persons;

   (2)  a lawyer who undertakes to complete unfinished legal business of a deceased lawyer may pay to the estate of the deceased lawyer that portion of the total compensation which fairly represents the services rendered by the deceased lawyer;

   (3)  a lawyer or law firm may include nonlawyer employees in a compensation or retirement plan, even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement;

   (4)  a lawyer or law firm may purchase the practice of another lawyer or law firm from an estate or other eligible person or entity consistent with Rule 1.17; and

   (5)  a lawyer may share court-awarded legal fees with a nonprofit organization that employed, retained or recommended employment of the lawyer in the matter.

 (b)  A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.

 (c)  A lawyer shall not permit a person who recommends, employs or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another to direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering such legal services.

 (d)  A lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional corporation or association authorized to practice law for profit, if:

   (1)  a nonlawyer owns any interest therein, except that a fiduciary representative of the estate of a lawyer may hold the stock or interest of the lawyer for a reasonable time during administration;

   (2)  a nonlawyer is a corporate director or officer thereof or occupies the position of similar responsibility in any form of association other than a corporation;

   (3)  a nonlawyer has the right to direct or control the professional judgment of a lawyer; or

   (4)  in the case of any form of association other than a professional corporation, the organic law governing the internal affairs of the association provides the equity owners of the association with greater liability protection than is available to the shareholders of a professional corporation.

 Subparagraphs (1), (2) and (4) shall not apply to a lawyer employed in the legal department of a corporation or other organization.


   (1) The provisions of this Rule express traditional limitations on sharing fees. These limitations are to protect the lawyer’s professional independence of judgment.

   (2) Where someone other than the client pays the lawyer’s fee or salary, or recommends employment of the lawyer, that arrangement does not modify the lawyer’s obligation to the client. As stated in paragraph (c), such arrangements should not interfere with the lawyer’s professional judgment.

   (3) Paragraph (a)(4) incorporates the authorization for the sale of a law practice pursuant to Rule 1.17. Fees may be shared between a lawyer purchasing a law practice and the estate or representative of the lawyer when a law practice is sold.

   (4) Paragraph (a)(5) adds a new dimension to the current Rule by specifically permitting sharing of fees with a nonprofit organization. It is a practice approved in ABA Formal Opinion 93-374.

   (5) These Rules do not restrict the organization of a private law firm to certain specified forms, such as a general partnership or a professional corporation. It is permissible to organize a private law firm using any form of association desired, including, without limitations such nontraditional forms as a limited partnership, registered limited liability partnership, limited liability company or business trust, so long as all of the restrictions in paragraph (d) are satisfied.

   (6) Paragraph (d)(1) recognizes that the owners of a private law firm may choose to organize their firm in such a way that it has more than one level of ownership such as, for example, a partnership composed of or including professional corporations. An ownership structure with more than one level will be permissible as long as all of the beneficial owners (as opposed to record owners) are lawyers, subject to the exception for estate administration.

   (7) Underlying the restriction in paragraph (d)(4) is a recognition that there are a variety of organizational forms that may be used by a law firm that provide some level of protection from personal liability for their owners. The use of such a form of organization is permissible so long as the limitation on liability provided by that form is no more extensive than that available through the professional corporation form. See 15 Pa.C.S. §  2925. Implicit in paragraph (d)(4) is a recognition that, so long as the owners have the personal liability preserved by the professional corporation law, a limitation on other personal liability is appropriate and should be respected. The result in First Bank & Trust Co. v. Zagoria, 250 Ga. 844, 302 S.E.2d 674 (1983), and similar cases is rejected.

   (8) Although the last sentence of subsection (d) recognizes that the restrictions in paragraph (d)(1), (2) and (4) are not properly applicable to a lawyer employed in the legal department of a corporation or other organization, it is still important to preserve the professional independence of a lawyer in that situation and thus the restriction in paragraph (d)(3) will apply to such a lawyer.

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