RULE 5.4 PROFESSIONAL INDEPENDENCE OF A LAWYER
Ethics & Discipline / Current Rules / Part IV (After January 1 / 2001) - Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (also includes Disciplinary Proceedings and Advisory Opinion rules) / CHAPTER 1 GEORGIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT AND ENFORCEMENT THEREOF
- A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer, except that:
- 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;
- a lawyer or law firm 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; and
- 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
- a lawyer who undertakes to complete unfinished 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.
- a lawyer may pay a referral fee to a bar-operated non-profit lawyer referral service where such fee is calculated as a percentage of legal fees earned by the lawyer to whom the service has referred a matter pursuant to Rule 7.3. Direct Contact with Prospective Clients.
- A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.
- 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.
- A lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional corporation or association authorized to practice law for a profit, if:
- 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;
- a nonlawyer is a corporate director or officer thereof; or
- a nonlawyer has the right to direct or control the professional judgment of a lawyer.
- A lawyer may:
- Provide legal services to clients while working with other lawyers or law firms practicing in, and organized under the rules of, other jurisdictions, whether domestic or foreign, that permit non-lawyers to participate in the management of such firms, have equity ownership in such firms, or share in legal fees generated by such firms; and
- Share legal fees arising from such legal services with such other lawyers or law firms to the same extent as the sharing of legal fees is permitted under applicable Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
- The activities permitted under the preceding portion of this paragraph (e) are subject to the following:
- The association shall not compromise or interfere with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment, the client-lawyer relationship between the client and the lawyer, or the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules; and
- Nothing in this paragraph (e) is intended to affect the lawyer’s obligation to comply with other applicable Rules of Professional Conduct, or to alter the forms in which a lawyer is permitted to practice, including but not limited to the creation of an alternative business structure in Georgia.
The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is disbarment.
 The provisions of this Rule express traditional limitations on sharing fees. These limitations are to protect the lawyer's professional independence of judgment. 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.
 The provisions of paragraph (e) of this Rule are not intended to allow a Georgia lawyer or law firm to create or participate in alternative business structures (ABS) in Georgia. An alternative business structure is a law firm where a non-lawyer is a manager of the firm, or has an ownership-type interest in the firm. A law firm may also be an ABS where another body is a manager of the firm, or has an ownership-type interest in the firm. This Rule only allows a Georgia lawyer to work with an ABS outside of the state of Georgia and to share fees for that work.
GO TO RULE 5.3 RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING NONLAWYER ASSISTANTS GO TO RULE 5.5: UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW; MULTIJURISDICTIONAL PRACTICE OF LAW Return to handbook browser.