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Firm Sues Santa Clara University Over Law Student Attorney Fees

Publication Date: 
August 24, 2012
Daily Journal
Saul Sugarman

Professor Deborah Rhode spoke with Saul Sugarman from the Daily Journal on the ethical issues associated with schools putting fees earned from cases tried by law students back into school-related funds.

An El Segundo-based law firm that handles collections work is suing Santa Clara University for its alleged misappropriation of attorney fees earned from cases tried by law students in the school's pro bono clinic.

The Brachfeld Law Group PC claimed Santa Clara University and Scott Maurer, supervising attorney for the school's Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, are "unlawfully" sharing attorney fees with the university's general fund.The Brachfeld Law Group v. Santa Clara University, 230715 (Santa Clara Co. Super. Ct., filed Aug. 20).


Stanford Law School ethics professor Deborah L. Rhode said it's "more problematic" if Santa Clara University is putting attorney fees in its general fund. But, she said, the more likely scenario is the school is putting the fees into the law center, the same way law firms funnel attorney fees back into their pro bono programs.

Rhode said the practice isn't unethical for firms and does not see why it can't be the same for universities.

"Pro bono programs cost money to run. There's no such thing as a free lunch," Rhode said.