If an attorney exceeds his or her client’s expectations, can the attorney demand a bonus from the client? The answer is “no”. The attorney can only seek payment of fees pursuant to the terms of the parties’ retainer agreement. Rule 1.5(a) of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct provide that an attorney’s fee must be reasonable. It would be inherently unreasonable and unethical for an attorney to unilaterally impose an additional fee, regardless of how successfully he or she had represented the client.
A client, however, may award an attorney with a small gift. The comments to Rule 1.8(c) of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct states that a “lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets the general standard of fairness”, such as a “present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation”.
Practice pointer for clients: If you want to give your attorney a gift, ask the attorney for the name of his or her favorite restaurant and then buy a gift certificate in an amount that would feed a family of four.