Temporary Placement of Attorneys
Opinion rules that attorneys in North Carolina may use attorney placement services which place independent contracting attorneys with other attorneys or firms needing assistance on a temporary basis for a placement fee.
Attorneys Placement Service, or APS, contracts with independent licensed attorneys willing to provide legal services on an hourly basis for placement of those attorneys with other attorneys, law firms, or corporate counsel needing some assistance temporarily because of lack of time, lack of expertise in a particular area, or other reasons. APS views its role as one of a placement consultant hired by both the employing attorney or firm and the independent attorneys who are placed. APS charges a placement fee which is paid directly by the employing attorneys or firms prior to paying the contracting attorney. The contracting attorney has entered into the arrangement to be paid at a rate equal to the amount paid by the employing attorney minus the placement fee, which is included in the agreement with the employing attorney as being deducted from the total amount paid by the employing attorney.
The attorneys placed by APS are not employed by APS. They are free to accept or decline any temporary position in which APS otherwise is able to place them. APS makes an effort to determine whether there could be a conflict of interest prior to placing any contracting attorney. However, APS also expects the employing attorneys or firms and the contracting attorneys to be sensitive to a possible conflict of interest and to handle any potential conflicts in an ethical manner.
May licensed attorneys in North Carolina ethically contract with APS as either employing attorneys wishing to have other attorneys placed with them on a temporary basis or as contracting attorneys seeking temporary placement with other attorneys or firms?
Yes. This arrangement does not appear to be structured in any way so as to impinge upon the lawyers' ability to exercise their independent judgment in performing legal services. The contracting attorneys, as well as the employing attorneys or firms, would need to be very careful to avoid any potential conflicts of interest under Rule 5.1 and to preserve confidential information appropriately under Rule 4 in the same way as is necessary whenever an attorney or firm representing a client contracts with another attorney to assist in performance of legal services and representation of the client. Assuming that the contractual arrangements specify what the employing attorney or firm is paying, the rate to be paid to the contracting attorney, and the placement fee to be paid to APS, the arrangement would not violate either Rule 2.6(d) or Rule 3.2.