Summary of Facts Provided
An attorney charges a reduced hourly fee to certain clients, such as survivors of child abuse. The attorney also represents other clients pro bono, that is, without charging any attorney fee. In some cases, the attorney has been entitled to an award of fees against the opposing party.
Issues and Conclusions
The attorney asked whether it is ethically permissible to request an award of fees at an hourly rate, which is greater than that being charged to the pro bono and reduced fee clients.
Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a) provides that a lawyer's fee shall be reasonable. The United States Supreme Court held in Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886 (1984) that a "reasonable" fee could be collected from an opposing party even though the client was receiving free representation from a non-profit organization. The Colorado Court of Appeals has similarly held that an attorney was entitled to recover fees from an opposing party, even though the attorney was providing pro bono representation. In re Marriage of Swink, 807 P.2d 1245 (Colo. App. 1991). These decisions are consistent with the principle underlying Colo. RPC 6.1. Allowing an attorney to collect reasonable fees for representing a pro bono client encourages attorneys to provide pro bono public service. Under the circumstances described, so long as the fee requested is reasonable, the request does not violate the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. It should be made clear to the client that the attorney is entitled to retain all attorneys' fees obtained in this manner, less any fees the client may have already paid.