BILL REQ. #:  S-1541.2 


State of Washington63rd Legislature2013 Regular Session

By Senators Becker, Dammeier, Bailey, Litzow, Braun, Schoesler, Holmquist Newbry, Smith, Fain, Ericksen, Rivers, Hill, Carrell, Honeyford, Benton, Pearson, Sheldon, King, Parlette, and Hewitt

Read first time 02/21/13.   Referred to Committee on Law & Justice.

     AN ACT Relating to attorney compensation; adding a new chapter to Title 2 RCW; prescribing penalties; and providing an effective date.


NEW SECTION.  Sec. 1   This act shall be known and cited as the professional compensation parity act.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 2   The legislature recognizes the importance of providing quality professional services to those who are unable to afford them. Professional persons have attained a privileged position in society and have an ethical, moral, and legal duty to provide their services at a significantly reduced rate for those clients or patients who may be of limited means. For indigent persons, insurance may not be a luxury or may not cover all or any of the costs associated with the professional services rendered. The notion of a just and civilized society demands that much is required of those to whom much has been given.
     While the medical profession has for many years been required under federal and state law, including chapter 70.170 RCW, to scale the fees demanded for services according to the capacity of the patient to pay, there have been no similar requirements for the legal profession. Lawyers are able to routinely demand hourly fees well in excess of the capacity of their clients to pay. These clients often have no insurance to cover fees and costs which can quickly amount to thousands of dollars. Even those attorneys who provide legal services on a contingency basis effectively take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of those most deserving and in need of resources. It is the intent of the legislature to correct the disparate fee structure between professionals in the legal and medical professions.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 3   (1) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, all attorneys licensed to practice law in the state of Washington and any law firm doing business in the state of Washington must charge an indigent person a fee for services which is based upon the sliding fee schedule for determination of discounts from charges for persons who qualify for such discounts developed by the Washington state bar association.
     (2) No law firm, its legal staff, or any attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Washington may adopt or maintain client screening practices or policies which result in:
     (a) A significant reduction in the proportion of clients who are unable to pay for legal services;
     (b) A significant reduction in the proportion of individuals referred or requesting legal services for which payment is, or is likely to be, less than the anticipated charges for or costs of such services; or
     (c) The refusal to accept clients who are expected to require unusually costly or prolonged cases for reasons other than those related to the appropriateness of the legal services available at the law firm or by the attorney.
     (3) No law firm or attorney may adopt or maintain practices or policies which deny access to legal services based on a person's ability to pay.
     (4) No law firm or attorney may refer a client with an active case in which litigation is pending in a court unless the referral is performed at the request of the client or is due to the limited resources of the transferring law firm or attorney. Law firms or attorneys must follow reasonable procedures in making referrals to other law firms or attorneys, including requiring a confirmation of acceptance of the referral by the receiving law firm or attorney.
     (5) For the purpose of providing indigent legal representation, each law firm or attorney must develop, implement, and maintain an indigent representation policy which, consistent with this chapter, enables indigent persons access to appropriate law firm or attorney-based legal services, provides a sliding fee schedule for determination of discounts from charges for persons who qualify for such discounts, and notifies persons who may be eligible for indigent representation.
     (6) Each law firm or attorney must make every reasonable effort to determine the existence or nonexistence of private or public sponsorship which might cover in full or part the charges for legal services rendered by the law firm or attorney to a client. An initial determination of sponsorship status must precede collection efforts directed at the client.
     (7) For the purposes of this chapter, "indigent person" means any person with a family income below one hundred thirty-eight percent of the federal poverty standard. Indigent persons may be discounted the full amount of attorney fees and costs, provided that such persons are not eligible for other private or public insurance coverage for legal services.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 4   The Washington state bar association must:
     (1) Develop the sliding fee schedule required in section 3 of this act. The sliding fee schedule is not effective until thirty days after the next intervening session of the legislature;
     (2) Develop definitions by rule, as appropriate, for this chapter;
     (3) Monitor law firm and attorney compliance with this chapter;
     (4) Report instances of noncompliance to the state attorney general or the appropriate federal agency;
     (5) Develop specific guidelines to assist law firms and attorneys in setting sliding fee schedules required by this chapter;
     (6) Monitor the distribution of indigent client representation among law firms and attorneys, with reference to factors such as the relative need for indigent representation in court jurisdictions and trends in private and public insurance coverage for legal services; and
     (7) Prepare reports that identify any problems in the distribution of indigent client representation among law firms and attorneys which are in contradiction of the intent of this chapter. The report must include an assessment of the effects of the provisions of this chapter on access to legal services, as well as an evaluation of the contribution of all purchasers of care to indigent legal representation.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 5   Sections 1 through 4 of this act constitute a new chapter in Title 2 RCW.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 6   This act takes effect August 1, 2013.

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