NYSBA Ethics Opinion 32NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION Professional Ethics Committee Opinion
Opinion #32 – 07/08/1966 (2-66)
estate, legal fees, partnership
Topic: Sharing Executor’s Fees with Partner
Digest: Partners of law firm may share fees which one partner receives as executor of an estate
Canon: Former Canon 34
May an attorney-at-law who is a member of a law partnership, which acts as the attorneys for an estate of which the attorney is an Executor, share the commissions received as Executor with his law partners?
It is not unethical for partners of a law firm to share compensation which one partner has received as Executor of an estate (compare, In re Hammersdorf’s Will, 125 N.Y.S. 2d 276, Sur. Ct., Westchester Co., 1953, where an assignment of Executor’s commissions before they were awarded by the Court was declared to be void).
The only prohibition in the Canons of Legal Ethics concerns the division of legal fees without the sharing of responsibility or work (Canon 34). It might be argued that Executor’s commissions are not legal fees and would therefore not come within the confines of Canon 34. But even if they should be considered as legal fees, there is no reason why they should not be shared with partners. Partners share with their fellow partners the responsibility for all the work of the office and they are therefore entitled under Canon 34 to share their fees. Such sharing of fees by partners is well understood by clients, serves a valid purpose, and is not subject to the evil which canon 34 was designed to avoid. (Clearly distinguishable is In re Annunziato’s Estate, 108 N.Y.S. 2d 101, Sur. Ct., Kings Co., 1951, prohibiting a division of legal fees between unrelated attorneys where no responsibility or services were shared.)