Rule 5.4. Professional Independence of a Lawyer


Colorado Court Rules
Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct

Law Firms and Associations

As amended through Rule Change 2018(6), effective April 12, 2018

(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 proportion of the total compensation which fairly represents the services rendered by the deceased lawyer;

(3) a lawyer who purchases the practice of a deceased, disabled, or disappeared lawyer may, pursuant to the provisions of Rule 1.17, pay to the estate or other representative of that lawyer the agreed-upon purchase price;

(4) 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; and

(5) a lawyer may share court-awarded legal fees with a nonprofit organization that employed, retained or recommend 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 company that is authorized to practice law for a 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; or

(2) A nonlawyer has the right to direct or control the professional judgment of a lawyer.

(e)    A lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional company that is authorized to practice law for a profit except in compliance with C.R.C.P. 265.

(f)     For purposes of this Rule, a "nonlawyer" includes (1)a lawyer who has been disbarred, (2)a lawyer who has been suspended and who must petition for reinstatement, (3) a lawyer who has been immediately suspended pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.8 or 251.20(d), (4) a lawyer who is on inactive status pursuant to C.R.C.P. 227(A)(6), or (5) a lawyer who, for a period of six months or more, has been (i) on disability inactive status pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.23 or (ii)suspended pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.8.5, 227(A)(4), 260.6, or 251.8.6.

Cite as RPC 5.4

History. Entire rule amended and adopted June 12, 1997, effective July 1, 1997; entire Appendix repealed and readopted April 12, 2007, effective January 1, 2008; (d) amended and (e) and (f) added and Comment amended and effective February 26, 2009; amended February 22, 2018, effective February 22, 2018.



[1] The provisions of this Rule express traditional limitations on sharing fees. These limitations are to protect the lawyer's professional independence of judgment on behalf of the lawyer's client. Moreover, since a lawyer should not aid or encourage a nonlawyer to practice law, the lawyer should not practice law or otherwise share legal fees with a nonlawyer. This does not mean, however, that the pecuniary value of the interest of a deceased lawyer in the lawyer's firm or practice may not be paid to the lawyer's estate or specified persons such as the lawyer's spouse or heirs. In like manner, profit-sharing retirement plans of a lawyer or law firm which include nonlawyer office employees are not improper. These limited exceptions to the rule against sharing legal fees with nonlawyers are permissible since they do not aid or encourage nonlawyers to practice law. 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 on behalf of the lawyer's client. A lawyer should, however, make full disclosure of such arrangements to the client; and if the lawyer or client believes that the effectiveness of lawyer's representation has been or will be impaired thereby, the lawyer should take proper steps to withdraw from representation of the client.

[2] To assist a lawyer in preserving independence, a number of courses are available, For example, a lawyer may practice law in the form of a professional company, if in doing so the lawyer complies with all applicable rules of the Colorado Supreme Court. Although a lawyer may be employed by a business corporation with nonlawyers serving as directors or officers, and they necessarily have the right to make decisions of business policy, a lawyer must decline to accept direction of the lawyer's professional judgment from any nonlawyer. Various types of legal aid offices are administered by boards of directors composed of lawyers and nonlawyers. A lawyer should not accept employment from such an organization unless the board sets only broad policies and there is no interference in the relationship of the lawyer and the individual client the lawyer serves. Where a lawyer is employed by an organization, a written agreement that defines the relationship between the. Lawyer and the organization and provides for the lawyer's independence is desirable since it may serve to prevent misunderstanding as to their respective roles. Although other innovations in the means of supplying legal counsel may develop, the responsibility of the lawyer to maintain the lawyer's professional independence remains constant, and the legal profession must insure that changing circumstances do not result in loss of the professional independence of the lawyer.

[3] As part of the legal profession's commitment to the principle that high quality legal services should be available to all, lawyers are encouraged to cooperate with qualified legal assistance organizations providing prepaid legal services. Participation should at all times be in accordance with the basic tenets of the profession: independence, integrity, competence, and devotion to the interests of individual clients. A lawyer so participating should make certain that a relationship with a qualified legal assistance organization in no way interferes with the lawyer's independent professional representation of the interests of the individual client. A lawyer should avoid situations in which officials of the organization who are not lawyers attempt to direct lawyers concerning the manner in which legal services are performed for individual members, and should also avoid situations in which considerations of economy are given undue weight in determining the lawyers employed by an organization or the legal services to be performed for the member or beneficiary rather than competence and quality of service. A lawyer interested in maintaining the historic traditions of the profession and preserving the function of a lawyer as a trusted and independent advisor to individual members of society should carefully assess those factors when accepting employment by, or otherwise participating in, a particular qualified legal assistance organization, and while so participating should adhere to the highest professional standards of effort and competence.