The Appellate Group

Office of Professional Conduct v. Bowen

Office of Professional Conduct v. Bowen, 2021 UT 53 (Pearce, J., majority; Durrant, C.J., concurring and dissenting; Lee, A.C.J., concurring and dissenting)

Attorney Discipline

Attorney entered into flat-fee legal services agreements that stated that the flat fees were deemed earned once paid; he deposited those flat fees directly into his operating account. The Office of Professional Conduct brought a disciplinary action against him, asserting that his conduct violated several rules. Attorney moved for summary judgment, which the district court denied. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding: 

  • The Attorney’s earned-when-paid provision in his flat-fee agreements violated rule 1.15 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct because he could not show that the clients received a substantial benefit (such as a towering reputation) that allowed Attorney to immediately claim the fee.
  • The majority held that Attorney was entitled to the safe harbor for one agreement because he entered into it before the supreme court issued Utah State Bar v. Jardine, 2012 UT 67, in which the court clarified the boundaries of earned-when-paid flat fees. Justice Durrant partially dissented on the basis that he would have applied the safe harbor provision to all the agreements, and Justice Lee partially dissented on the basis that he would not have applied the safe harbor provision to any of the agreements.

Read the full court opinion