Recovery of Legal Fees After Termination of the Lawyer-Client Relationship for “Mutual Fault” October 16, 2014, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled that a lawyer who is discharged due to “mutual fault” is nonetheless entitled to recover fees in quantum meruit. See Adler v. Childers, No. 14-01-ART, 2014 BL 290461 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 16, 2014). The  lawyer had represented a client in a property-damage case arising out of the construction of the client’s home atop a mine spoil. During the litigation, a dispute arose as to whether the lawyer settled the case on terms accepted by the client. The lawyer-client relationship deteriorated and ultimately ended. The lawyer thereafter sought attorney’s fees. The client opposed the effort, arguing that the lawyer cannot withdraw from a representation due to a disagreement over the value of a case and thereafter recover fees. The court disagreed, and held that it “makes good sense,” to permit the lawyer to recover in quantum meruit.

The same result would obtain in Louisiana. A Louisiana lawyer who is discharged by a client is generally entitled to recover in quantum meruit for any services provided prior to termination. See Saucier v. Hayes Dairy Products, Inc., 373 So.2d 102 (La.1979); see generally Restatement of Law (Third) Governing Lawyers § 40 (2000). However, a lawyer who is terminated for cause may have his quantum meruit fee reduced as a result of the fault that led to his discharge. In O’Rourke v. Cairns, the Louisiana Supreme Court held as follows:

We therefore hold that in cases of discharge with cause of an attorney retained on contingency, the trial court should determine the amount of the fee according to the Saucier rule, calculating the highest ethical contingency to which the client contractually agreed in any of the contingency fee contracts executed. The court should then allocate the fee between or among discharged and subsequent counsel based upon the Saucier factors. Thereafter, the court should consider the nature and gravity of the cause which contributed to the dismissal and reduce by a percentage amount the portion discharged counsel otherwise would receive after the Saucier allocation.

O’Rourke v. Cairns, 683 So. 2d 697, 704 (La. 1996); see also Buras v. Ace Dynasty Transp. Corp., 731 So. 2d 1010, 1013 (La. Ct. App. 4th Cir. 1999) (“Considering the nature and gravity of the cause for which [the client] discharged [the lawyer], we do not believe the trial court erred in its reduction of the discharged lawyer’s portion of the fee by ten percent.”).

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