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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 71

Adopted May 25, 1934

The Board of Governors is in receipt of a request for an Advisory Opinion growing out of the following facts:

A member of the State Bar entered into a contract with a person having a claim which he sought to enforce before the State Industrial Commission under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The member of the Bar entered into a written contract with such person whereby the claimant agreed to pay as a fee, contingent upon recovery fifty per cent of the award. The award was made, the money paid, i. e. three hundred dollars, whereupon the claimant paid the member of the Bar, pursuant to the contract, the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars. In making the award the Industrial Commission limited the attorney's fee to twenty per cent of the recovery, or to sixty dollars. Upon learning the facts, the State Industrial Commission entered an order that the member of the Bar refund to the claimant the sum of ninety dollars.

It would appear that the query seeks an opinion upon the ethics of a member of the Bar who (a) contracts for a fee with a claimant under the Industrial Compensation Act in excess of the compensation allowed by the Commission; and (b) collects from the claimant the contract fee, which is paid by the claimant from the proceeds of the award.

The query involves an application of Section 13364, O.S.1931, 85 Okl. St. Ann. § 30, to the professional conduct of a member of the Bar. The jurisdiction of the Industrial Commission under that Section has been limited to attorneys' fees which are required to be paid from or sought to be enforced against the proceeds of an award to an injured workman. Carr v. State Industrial Commission, 157 Okl. 140, 11 P.2d 134. The provisions of the Section were intended to protect injured employees and their families. It was intended to prevent the dissipation of the proceeds of awards made to injured workmen. Yeiser v. Dysart, 267 U.S. 540, 45 S.Ct. 399, 69 L.Ed. 775. To collect or receive from the proceeds of an award an attorney's fee in excess of that allowed by the Commission would subject a member of the Bar, guilty of such conduct, to disciplinary proceedings.