Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 1.5

As amended through June 4, 2020
Rule 1.5 - FEES
(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services;
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent;
(9) prior advertisements or statements by the lawyer with respect to the fees the lawyer charges; and
(10) whether the fee agreement is in writing.
(b) The scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, except when the lawyer will charge a regularly represented client on the same basis or rate. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be communicated to the client.
(c) A fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by paragraph (d) or other law. A contingent fee agreement shall be in a writing signed by the client and shall state the method by which the fee is to be determined, including the percentage or percentages that shall accrue to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial, or appeal; litigation and other expenses to be deducted from the recovery; and whether such expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is calculated. The agreement must clearly notify the client of any expenses for which the client will be liable whether or not the client is the prevailing party. Upon conclusion of a contingent fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement stating the outcome of the matter and, if there is a recovery, showing the remittance to the client and the method of its determination.
(d) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect:
(1) any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or the award of custodial rights, or upon the amount of alimony or support, or the value of a property division or settlement, unless the matter relates solely to the collection of arrearages in alimony or child support or the enforcement of an order dividing the marital estate and the fee arrangement is disclosed to the court; or
(2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.
(e) A division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:
(1) the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation;
(2) the client agrees to the arrangement, and the agreement is confirmed in writing; and
(3) the total fee is reasonable.
(f) A fee that is nonrefundable in whole or in part shall be agreed to in a writing, signed by the client, that explains the intent of the parties as to the nature and amount of the nonrefundable fee.

Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 1.5

Comment

Reasonableness of Fee and Expenses

[1] Paragraph (a) requires that lawyers charge fees that are reasonable under the circumstances. The factors specified in (1) through (10) are not exclusive. Nor will each factor be relevant in each instance. Paragraph (a) also requires that expenses for which the client will be charged must be reasonable. A lawyer may seek reimbursement for the cost of services performed in-house, such as copying, or for other expenses incurred in-house, such as telephone charges, either by charging a reasonable amount to which the client has agreed in advance or by charging an amount that reasonably reflects the cost incurred by the lawyer.

Basis or Rate of Fee

[2] When the lawyer has regularly represented a client, they ordinarily will have evolved an understanding concerning the basis or rate of the fee and the expenses for which the client will be responsible. In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to fees and expenses must be promptly established. Generally, it is desirable to furnish the client with at least a simple memorandum or copy of the lawyer's customary fee arrangements that states the general nature of the legal services to be provided, the basis, rate or total amount of the fee and whether and to what extent the client will be responsible for any costs, expenses, or disbursements in the course of the representation. A written statement concerning the terms of the engagement reduces the possibility of misunderstanding. With respect to whether a writing is required when a lawyer seeks to change the terms of a fee agreement with a client, see RPC 1.8, Comment [1].

[3] Contingent fees, like any other fees, are subject to the reasonableness standard of paragraph (a) of this Rule. In determining whether a particular contingent fee is reasonable, or whether it is reasonable to charge any form of contingent fee, a lawyer must consider the factors that are relevant under the circumstances. Applicable law may impose limitations on contingent fees, such as a ceiling on the percentage allowable, or may require a lawyer to offer clients an alternative basis for the fee. Applicable law also may apply to situations other than a contingent fee, for example, government regulations regarding fees in certain tax matters.

Terms of Payment

[4] A lawyer may require advance payment of a fee, but is obliged to return any unearned portion. See RPC 1.16(d). The obligation to return any portion of a fee does not apply, however, if the lawyer charges a reasonable nonrefundable fee.

[4a] A nonrefundable fee is one that is paid in advance and earned by the lawyer when paid. Nonrefundable fees, like any other fees, are subject to the reasonableness standard of paragraph (a) of this Rule. In determining whether a particular nonrefundable fee is reasonable, or whether it is reasonable to charge a nonrefundable fee at all, a lawyer must consider the factors that are relevant to the circumstances. Recognized examples of appropriate nonrefundable fees include a nonrefundable retainer paid to compensate the lawyer for being available to represent the client in one or more matters or where the client agrees to pay to the lawyer at the outset of the representation a reasonable fixed fee for the representation. Such fees are earned fees so long as the lawyer remains available to provide the services called for by the retainer or for which the fixed fee was charged. RPC 1.5(f) requires a writing signed by the client to make certain that lawyers take special care to assure that clients understand the implications of agreeing to pay a nonrefundable fee.

[4b] A lawyer may accept property in payment for services, such as an ownership interest in an enterprise, providing this does not involve acquisition of a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of the litigation contrary to RPC 1.8(i). However, a fee paid in property instead of money may be subject to the requirements of RPC 1.8(a) because such fees often have the essential qualities of a business transaction with the client.

[5] An agreement may not be made whose terms might induce the lawyer improperly to curtail services for the client or perform them in a way contrary to the client's interest. For example, a lawyer should not enter into an agreement whereby services are to be provided only up to a stated amount when it is foreseeable that more extensive services probably will be required, unless the situation is adequately explained to the client. Otherwise, the client might have to bargain for further assistance in the midst of a proceeding or transaction. However, it is proper to define the extent of services in light of the client's ability to pay. A lawyer should not exploit a fee arrangement based primarily on hourly charges by using wasteful procedures. When there is doubt whether a contingent fee is consistent with the client's best interest, the lawyer should discuss with the client alternative bases for the fee and explain their implications.

Prohibited Contingent Fees

[5a] In some circumstances, applicable law may impose limitations on contingent fees, such as a ceiling on the percentage. For example, Tennessee law regulates contingent fees in medical malpractice cases. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-120. In these circumstances, charging unlawful fees or expenses may be considered unreasonable under paragraph (a) of this Rule and may violate RPC 8.4 or other rules. See RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

[6] Paragraph (d) prohibits a lawyer from charging a contingent fee in a domestic relations matter when payment is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or an award of custody or upon the amount of alimony or support or property settlement to be obtained. This provision permits a contingent fee for legal representation in connection with the recovery of post-judgment balances due under support, alimony, or other financial orders provided that the fee arrangement is disclosed to the court.

Division of Fee

[7] A division of fee is a single billing to a client covering the fee of two or more lawyers who are not in the same firm. A division of fee facilitates association of more than one lawyer in a matter in which neither alone could serve the client as well, and most often is used when the fee is contingent and the division is between a referring lawyer and a trial specialist. Paragraph (e) permits the lawyers to divide a fee either on the basis of the proportion of services they render or if each lawyer assumes responsibility for the representation as a whole. In addition, the client must agree to the arrangement, and the agreement must be confirmed in writing. It does not require disclosure to the client of the share that each lawyer is to receive. Contingent fee agreements must be in a writing signed by the client and must otherwise comply with paragraph (c) of this Rule. Joint responsibility for the representation entails the obligations stated in RPC 5.1 for purposes of the matter involved. A lawyer should only refer a matter to a lawyer whom the referring lawyer reasonably believes is competent to handle the matter. See RPC 1.1.

[8] Paragraph (e) does not prohibit or regulate division of fees to be received in the future for work done when lawyers were previously associated in a law firm.

Disputes over Fees

[9] If a procedure has been established for resolution of fee disputes, such as an arbitration or mediation procedure established by the bar, the lawyer must comply with the procedure when it is mandatory, and, even when it is voluntary, the lawyer should conscientiously consider submitting to it. Law may prescribe a procedure for determining a lawyer's fee, for example, in representation of an executor or administrator, a class or a person entitled to a reasonable fee as part of the measure of damages. The lawyer entitled to such a fee and a lawyer representing another party concerned with the fee should comply with the prescribed procedure.

DEFINITIONAL CROSS-REFERENCES "Confirmed in writing" See RPC 1.0(b) "Firm" See RPC 1.0(c) "Reasonable" See RPC 1.0(h) "Writing" See RPC 1.0(n)