American Bar Association (ABA) Code

State bar associations address ethical considerations of attorney fee-setting in their bar rules of professional conduct or professional responsibility. All states have similar rules, most often parallel to, or adopting ver batim, the ABA Model Rules or ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility.

ABA Model Rule 1.5 states that a lawyer’s fee must be reasonable. The rule lists the same criteria and factors to consider (in determining reasonableness) as those used when lawyers first assess a legal matter and then establish their fee arrangement with a client. These factors include the time and labor involved, the requisite legal skills needed, the fee customarily charged for such services, and the experience and reputation of the lawyer.

The ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility, DR 2-106 prohibits clearly excessive fees. Factors to be considered as guidelines in determining the reasonableness or excessiveness of the fee again parallel the same considerations recommended when first establishing fees (see Rule 1.5, above).

More importantly, ABA Model Rule 1.5(d) prohibits fee arrangements that (1)are contingent upon the securing of a divorce, or the amount of alimony or support; or (2) are contingent fees for legal representation in a criminal defense matter.


Inside American Bar Association (ABA) Code