Ethics of Surcharges

The following ethics opinions have held that it is permissible for firms to charge clients more for a freelance attorney’s services than the rate paid to the freelance attorney: ABA Formal Op. 00-420 (2000); ABA Formal Op. 08-451 (2008); Va. Legal Ethics Op. 1735 (1999); Va. Legal Ethics Op. 1712 (1998); D.C. Legal Ethics Op. 284 (1990); Colo. Ethics Op. 105 (1999); Alaska Ethics Op. No. 96-1 (1996); S.C. Ethics Op. 10-08 (2010); Ohio Ethics Op. 2009-6 (2009). 

Note, however, that Texas and Maryland do not allow firms to add a surcharge to a freelance attorney’s fee. See Tex. Ethics Op. No. 577 (2007); Md. Ethics Op. 1992-19 (1992).

Before adding a surcharge to a freelance lawyer’s fees, a hiring firm should review the relevant local ethical rules and opinions to ensure compliance with its ethical obligations.