How not to sue for fees.

I don’t speak or blog on legal fees often.  When I do, I’ve been clear: nothing in the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits a lawyer from charging and collecting a reasonable fee. Then, if asked for guidance on suing a former client to collect a fee, I’ve added caveats:

  1. Do you want to be known as the lawyer who sues clients?
  2. If you sue, they might file a counterclaim. Carriers warn about this all the time.

I never imagined having to add a third: be careful that you don’t end up in jail.

As reported by the ABA Journal and Law360, that’s exactly what happened to a Georgia attorney who sued for his fee.  Per the reports,

  • Lawyer represented Relatives (yes, the lawyer’s own) in a wrongful death action against multiple defendants.
  • Relatives fired Lawyer after he settled with a defendant without their authority.
  • Lawyer received over $100,000 in fees from the settlement.
  • Relatives hired New Attorneys to pursue their claim against the remaining defendant.
  • Lawyer put a lien on any recovery.
  • A jury awarded Relatives $11.2 million.
  • A trial court rejected the lien, finding that Lawyer’s “efforts weren’t instrumental to the verdict, and his unethical behavior in the co-defendant settlement barred additional compensation.”
  • Lawyer lost his appeal and the trial court awarded attorney’s fees and costs against Lawyer.

If you’re thinking that’s the end of the story, you’ve probably never read my blog.  Regular readers are likely asking “oh no, how could it possible have gotten any worse for Lawyer?”

Here’s how.

  • Lawyer sued New Attorneys.
  • New Attorneys’ counterclaims included an allegation that Lawyer’s claim was meritless.
  • Lawyer failed to appear for several depositions, including some for which the court had ordered him to appear after he didn’t show up for the first.
  • New Attorneys moved for sanctions.
  • A trial judge found Lawyer in contempt, ordered him jailed for 5 days, and ordered him to sit for the deposition while in jail. The judge also ordered that Lawyer would be released immediately if he “responds to all questions and produces all documents as previously directed.”

Okay then.

In closing, the Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit lawyers from suing a former client to collect a fee.  As today’s story shows, if that’s the route you choose, the devil will be in the details.

no fees

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