Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D, J.D., Etc., Author
Law Office of Quinn and Quinn
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Austin, Texas 78703

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(Resumes: www.michaelseanquinn.com)
Commandment Two Published on Jauary 16, 2015


This Preface is attached to each of the parts, oppressive though that may appear.This blog  is part (1/11th) of a collection called the ELEVEN COMMANDMENTS OF LEGAL ETHICS.  There are 11 separate mini-blogs; they need not be read in any particular order.  I have tried to keep them “together,” but cyber-success is not an inevitability when I am around. An early version* of it was published a decade or so ago.  Before that very short speech versions  were used as part of a day long CLE course ordered by the Supreme Court of Texas for new lawyers.  Later for several years it was used in other CE or CLE contexts.A version of this essay is to be found in my essay, The Eleven Commandments of Professional Responsibility: A Gallimaufry, Book II, Commandment 3, THE ETHICS COURSE (4TH [AND PREVIOUS] EDITION[S] (2001), edited by Beryl P. Crowley, Mitchel L. Winick, and Michael Sean Quinn.

All of this can be found on my Resume which is linked to (attached to) my website. www.michaelseanquinn.com. There are video versions somewhere in the cyber-sphere, and if not there in the cyber-world or in e-space and/or in the so-called “real world,” for sale.  As old as it is, the collection–whether in print, in the cyber-sky, on a something like a motion picture–is not really out of date, except there are not explicit references it to legal ethics and the cyber world.  At the same the obligations of the lawyers have not changed much, except now there is a new dimension to our confidentiality obligations and and out obligations to keep up to date. The “code numbers” are sometimes to the ABA Model Rules and sometimes to the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. (*The term “version” means what it says: wordings change and ideas shift, tough the latter very little. Earlier version can be found entered on July 2, 2012 and on March 12, 2014.)

Given the purposes and context in which the early versions of the essays were written, many of the legal rules explicitly numbered are from The Texas Rules that were built upon the ABA Model Rules. 

Some of the Blogs will contain supplementary additions. Those added after January 1, 2015 will probably be dated, barring oversight. Readers may note that many of the cites are Texas cases.  This resulted from the history of the contents of these blogs.

These disquisitions are revisions something I wrote at least several years ago. First editions of these essays were  begun some time ago.  Somehow their print got locked in, to some degree, so some parts of the essays were thrown out of kilter and can’t be made right today. This is particularly true along the left margins of some of the essays.

                                                     COMMANDMENT THREE:  DON’T
GOUGE

Gouging is very much like stealing. 
However, stealing is something which is done quite intentionally, since
it involves taking something which doesn’t belong to you, knowing it doesn’t
belong to you, with no intention of giving it back.  Gouging is not necessarily exactly
like stealing.  It’s simply substantially
overcharging.  Sometimes, bills are
overstated because junior associates don’t know the billing rules.  Sometimes they are overstated because one
person in a firm erroneously thinks that another will be auditing and shaping
the bill.  Sometimes, it is hard to draw
the line between fraudulent overbilling (unquestionably a form of stealing) and
gouging.  Some types of gouging are not
even remotely like stealing.  Criminal
defense lawyers, and others, who bill by means of fixed fees are sometimes
overly aggressive about setting high fees. 
One lawyer we know thought that he had not set the fee high enough
unless the prospective client choked when he first heard it.  Quite possibly this is gouging.  This lawyer thought he was simply charging
what the market would bear.  Classic
capitalism.

A.        Legal Rules

1.         1.04(a):  Fees shall not be unreasonable. It is worth keeping in mind that reasonableness is defined in terms of what is or is not unconscionable.
2.        1.04(c):  Fees shall be clear and agreed to.

3,  Breaches of fiduciary duties by
lawyers may lead to the forfeiture of fees, as well as other damages. Burrow
v. Arce
, 997 S.W.2d 229 (Tex. 1999). 
The rule in this case is quite simple: Faithless fiduciaries
forfeit fees
.  (Lawyers, of
course, are fiduciaries, and this case specifically concerned lawyers.)  They may not forfeit all of their fees, but
they may very well forfeit some of them. 
How much is a matter to be decided by the court and not by the jury.

B.        When
a firm is disqualified due to a conflict of interest, it may not be entitled to
fees.  Image Technical Service, Inc.
v. Eastman Kodak Co.,
136 F.3d 1354 (9th Cir. 1998).  (In this case, a prevailing anti-trust
plaintiff could not recover some fees under a statutory fee-shifting system,
because one of its law firms had been disqualified.
)

C         Legal
fee agreements across state lines may not be enforceable. 

B.        Commentary

1.        Don’t
overwork cases.  In re Arabia, 19
P.3d 113 (Kan. 2001).  (Nearly $157,200
was an unreasonable fee for research and filing in a simple discrimination
case.)


2.         Explain fees carefully.  Do it beforehand.  Do it in the bill.   

3.         If work is charged for, make sure it
gets done.  In re Cotten, 624
N.W.2d 360 (Wis. 2001), In re Diamon, 624 N.W.2d 147 (Wis. 2001).

4.         Guidelines.  Try to match fee statements to fee
guidelines.  (This is a real
problem.)  Insurance companies are
getting nervous about using outside auditing services, so many of them are
using in-house auditors.  Jill Schachner
Chanen, Adios Outside Auditors, Insurance Carriers Go In-House to Check
Attorneys’ Bills
, 86 ABA J. 20 (January 2000).  Many insurers promulgated and imposed
guidelines upon defense counsel.  They
may now be unlawful in Texas.  See
§ 104.001-.006 of the Texas Insurance Code.  (Maybe: This was a bill passed in the 2001
Legislative Session.  The governor had
not signed as of June  2001.  It may
cause a good deal of trouble in the area of insurance defense ethics.)

           

5.         Fees: Agreed v. Reasonable.  In most jurisdictions, “an attorney is entitled
only to reasonable fees regardless of the existence of a contract between her
and her client.”  Vaughn v. King,
975 F. Supp. 1147, 1151 (N.D. Ind. 1997). 
This rule is not mechanically applied in all cases.  See Alderman v. Pan Am World Airways,
169 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 1999) (holding that in a dispute among attorneys as to
sharing a fee the contractual fee agreement controlled).  Moreover, what constitutes a reasonable fee
is not always self-evident.  For a
demonstration of the in-depth analysis involved in determining whether a fee is
reasonable, see In re Dorothy, 605 N.W.2d 493 (S.D. 2000) (concluding,
after exhaustive discussion, that $60,000 fee was unreasonable in child custody
case).

6.         Across States.  If a citizen of state A contracts with
lawyers in state B to do work in state A, and they do so, the
out-of-state attorneys may not be able to enforce the fee agreement, because
they were not licensed to practice law in state A.  Z. A. v. San Bruno Park School District,
165 F.3d 1273 (9th Cir. 1999).  In
California, no person may recover compensation for an attorney’s services
performed in California unless the attorney was a member of the State Bar of
California at the time the services were rendered.  Birnbrower, Montalba, Kondin, & Frank
v. Superior Court,
949 P.2d 1 (Cal. 1998), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct.
291 (1998).

7.         Expenses.  The Don’t Gouge! rule applies to
expenses as well as to fees.  (Remember
what brought Webb Hubbell down.)

a.         You don’t have to order the most
expensive thing on the menu.  You don’t
even have to order the most expensive dessert. 
Moreover, not all courts believe that meals are billable.  See Apple Corps. Ltd. v. Int’l Collectors
Soc.
, 25 F. Supp.2d 480, 499 (D.N.J. 1998). 
Besides, huge restaurant bills are often irksome to auditors employed by
the client.  Envy is not a vice
restricted to lawyers.  It’s bad
business.

b.         You don’t have to take along an
associate when you don’t need one.  The
same applies to paralegals.  In general,
when a lawyer shows up with an entourage, it is a fair inference that the
lawyer suffers from under-preparation or psychic insecurity.

c.         Unnecessary personalties should not be
charged to clients.  (Perhaps this is a
form of stealing and thus belongs under C1.)

8.         Who Must Pay?  A law firm has a right to be paid only by the
party that has agreed to pay it.  That
may be the client, or it may not.  In
general, if a law firm does work for a corporation, it may not collect from the
individual who owns the corporation.  LeBouf
Lamb Greene &
[which merged with Dewey Balentine and then went bankrupt with it]; MacRae v. Worsham, 185 F.3d 61 (2nd Cir. 1999).  The problem here seems to have been that the
law firm did work for several corporations overseas, and it probably wasn’t
clear which corporation was liable for the fees.  The law firm sued the individual which owned
all of them.  Alas, the court rebuffed
LeBouf.  Perhaps this was not so much gouging
as confusion. 
Still . . .  .

9.         Gouging and  Lying.  Violations of the rule against gouging are
often coupled with subsequent violations of the rule against lying.  In re Glynn, 618 N.W.2d 740 (Wis.
2000) (L paid himself excessive and unauthorized fees in two
guardianship matters and then attempted to justify the payments by submitting
false itemized statements and by documents falsely indicating he was
reimbursing the states for disbursements he had made to himself without court
approval.)

10.       For new types of work, there is a steep
learning curve.  This is especially true
for high tech work.  Who should pay for the
education time?  Don’t lawyers who are
not yet learned have to say as?

C.   Cases:  Every case that results in the reduction of
legal fees involves probable violations of these disciplinary rules.  Fees can be quite large.  So can reductions.

            1.         Fees
in Tobacco Cases
:  For general
exploration of these problems, see Panel Discussion, The Tobacco Litigation
and Attorneys’ Fees
, 67 Fordham L.
Rev.
2827 (May 1999).  No less a
figure than Professor Charles Silver of the University of Texas School of Law
has defended the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees 
at some length.  He believes that
the fees are a reasonable return upon investments of money and time, fully in
keeping with the traditions of contingency fee payments.  The investments are larger, so the returns have
to be larger.  See Beating Tobacco
Industry Means Spending Like It Does,
Austin
American-Statesman
at A-17 (Wednesday, October 1, 1997).  See also Just Blowing Smoke, Texas Lawyer 32 (June 8,
1998)(arguing that the briefs of the intervenors misrepresented the law on
attorneys’ fees to the court) and AG Lawyers Spar Over Tobacco Litigation
Fees
, 43 Tex. Lawyer 1
(January 18, 1999).  Significantly,
the plaintiffs’ lawyers have withdrawn their claim with respect to the State of
Texas.
31

2.         Class action fees:  These fees are usually quite large and they
are subject to substantial scrutiny. 
Sometimes, but not invariably, these fees should be considered under
Commandment Two.

a.         Since the defendants don’t care what
the contingency fee is because it comes out of the settlement, and since there
is a conflict of interest between plaintiffs’ counsel and the class, the court
treats itself as a fiduciary of the plaintiffs in reviewing counsel’s bills.

b.         There is a tendency for attorneys to
over-report time and to put in surcharges for expenses.  Courts are now examining these rather
carefully.  For a detailed discussion of
how courts audit bills and expenses, see Feinberg v. Hibernia Corp., 966
F. Supp. 442 (E.D. La. 1997). 

c.         Sometimes courts have to protect
attorneys against plaintiffs who are trying to maximize the funds available to
them.  “When the members of the class
entered this courthouse four years ago, they perceived their case as weak and
had little hope of recovery.  Now, as the
class prepares to leave the courthouse with a recovery vastly exceeding their
initial expectations [a recovery of $140 million], a few class members object
to the extent of the ‘enhancement requested by their foot soldiers.’  The Court would give greater weight to these
objections were they voiced at the same decibel level when there was little
hope of recovery.”  Walco Investments,
Inc. v. Thenen
, 975 F. Supp. 1468 (S.D. Fla. 1997).  (Interestingly, some internationally known
law firms contributed millions to the settlement pot in this case.)
32



d.         Fees of consulting experts, such as
accountants, are also subject to judicial scrutiny.  Lawyers presenting these fees need to do so
carefully and in conformity with applicable legal rules.  In re Fleet/Norstar Sec. Litig., 974 F.
Supp. 155 (D.R.I. 1997).

e.         As indicated above, courts are
skeptical about large fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers in class action
settlements.  Courts are worried that
plaintiffs’ lawyers may sell their clients out for fat fees.  After all, when the defendant offers to pay a
substantial fee directly to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the lawyer has less
incentive to pursue a larger settlement for the class.  General Motors Corp. v. Bloyed, 916
S.W.2d 949 (Tex. 1996).  See Ortiz v.
Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815 (1999). 
But see Shaw v. Toshiba Am. Info. Systems, Inc., 91 F.Supp.2d 942
(E.D. Tex. 2000).  (The court found that
a settlement of $2.1 billion was “fair, adequate, and reasonable.  On the basis of this action, the court
awarded $147.5 million in attorneys’ fees and $3 million in expenses.  This case involves a comprehensive
discussion  of legal fees and class
actions.)



 (1)        One sees very few contingency fee
agreements in individual cases where the percentage declines as the recovery
increases, although such agreements are common when firms handle subrogation
cases for insurance companies.
(2)        Which approach, as
a general matter, is the better one:  a
constant contingency fee or a decreasing one?

(3)        Can an argument be
made for increasing the contingency fee after a certain level?  Wouldn’t this make sense if one were trying
to encourage attorneys to absolutely the largest recovery possible?

3.         Withdrawal.  Sometimes lawyers are permitted to withdraw
when clients are not paying their fees.  U.S.
ex rel. Cherry Hill v. Healthcare Rehab Systems, Inc.,
994 F. Supp. 244
(D.N.J. 1997).  Sometimes not.  Hasbro v. Serafino, 966 F. Supp. 108
(D. Mass. 1997) (a motion to withdraw denied). 
See Whiting v. Incorporated Village of Old Brookville, 20 F.Supp.2d
438 (E.D.N.Y. 1998) rev’d by Whiting v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317 (2nd
Cir. 1999).  In this case, the Second
Circuit agreed with the district court that if a lawyer–who was the third
lawyer for the client–knows that the client is difficult, his withdrawal after
jury selection will not be permitted, since it will substantially prejudice
other parties and waste judicial resources.) 
However, the Second Circuit nevertheless allowed the attorney to
withdraw here, primarily because the client expressed his opinion that he should
be able to both dictate legal strategy and sue the lawyer for
malpractice if that strategy was not followed. 
Id. at 322.  Withdrawal
depends on a variety of factors: 
prejudice to the client, prejudice to other parties, problems of delay,
how much has already been paid, whether the fees already paid are reasonable,
and so forth.  Withdrawal may also be
timed or phased.  Taylor v. Stewart,
20 F.Supp.2d 882 (E.D. Pa. 1998)(firm permitted to withdraw at the end of
discovery).

a.         When an attorney withdraws from an
action and then intervenes to obtain the recovery of attorneys’ fees, and the
former client wishes to sue the attorney for malpractice, the suit must be done
in the underlying case.  Russian
Kurier, Inc. v. ITAR-TASS Russian News Agency
, 140 F.3d 442 (2nd Cir.
1998).  This often happens in divorce
cases.

b.         Claims of attorney malpractice are
compulsory counterclaims to claims for attorneys’ fees.  Goggin v. Grimes, 969 S.W.2d 135,
138 (Tex. Civ. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 1998, no pet.) (relying upon
Rule 97(a) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure).



c.         In general, when lawyers sue to recover
fees, they should consider carefully the possibility that there will be a
malpractice counterclaim or a suit for the recoupment of some fees that the
client will claim  constitute gouging.  Levison, Lerner, Burger & Langsam v.
Medical Taping Systems, Inc.,
20 F.Supp.2d 645 (S.D.N.Y. 1998).
d.         If a client absconds, does not pay a
fee, and is helped by someone else, do not count on succeeding in a tortious
interference action against the interloper. 
Egorov v. Puchinsky, Afanasiev, & Juring v. Terriberry, Carol
& Yancy
,  183 F.3d 453 (5th Cir.
1999) (Louisiana law).  This case
involved crew members who were not paid and then sued a shipowner.  The ship was then sold to someone else.  That someone else paid the crews’ wages, and
everyone sailed happily away except for the American and Russian law firms that
represented the crew.  They did not
succeed in their tortious interference action against the new owners of the
ship.  

e.         It is impermissible for a lawyer to
condition the ending of an attorney-client relationship upon the execution of a
release.  The Florida Bar v.
Frederick,
756 So.2d 79 (Fla. 2000) (conduct found to be prejudicial to the
administration of justice).

4.         Criminal Cases:  Where statutes call for the payment of
criminal defense fees, courts will determine whether the fees are
reasonable.  United States v. Nichols,
184 F.3d 1169, 1171 (10th Cir. 1999) (the statute at stake was 21 U.S.C.
§ 848(q)(10).
33

D.        Long-Range Self-Interest:  It is getting harder and harder for lawyers
who gouge to get away with it. 
Institutional clients are becoming more and more watchful.  Insurance companies are leading the way, but
banks are not far behind.  Although many
businesses are not yet scrutinizing bills carefully, this trend will likely
continue.  Billing practices spill over
into other realms of the law, and that can lead to awkward situations.  See Bohatch v. Butler & Binion,
977 S.W. 2d 543 (Tex. 1998) (assertion of over-billing led to personnel
problems).

E.         Contingency Fees.  Some contingency fees are unquestionably
reasonable.  However, courts, and others,
have expressed some doubt about them in mass tort litigation, where attorneys
can accumulated multimillion dollar fees for what is essentially administrative
work (e.g., in asbestos cases after the first round).  Also, courts have some qualms about the
perverse incentives that large contingency fees create for mass tort lawyers.
34

Some courts have also declared that contingency
fee contracts that provide for payment to the attorney on discharge, whether or
not the action is successful, are unreasonable and hence violate disciplinry
rules prohibiting excessive fees.  See
Cuynhoga Cty. Bar Assoc. v. Levey
, 724 N.E.2d 395, 397 (Ohio 2000).

1.         Enforceability.  Many contingency fee contracts are without
question enforceable.  See Chapman v.
Hootman
, 999 S.W.2d 118 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.
h.).  In this case, the attorney was
entitled to a contingency fee if he eliminated or reduced the amount his client
would have to pay.  Of course,
contingency fees usually presuppose recoveries, but not always.  As a general rule, defendants may not attack
the contingency agreement formed between plaintiffs and their lawyers.  Abbott v. 
Kidder Peabody & Co.
, 42 F. Supp.2d 1046 (D. Colo. 1999).  However, attorneys can be disqualified from
representing plaintiffs under retainer agreements.  Abbott was a securities case that
allowed a minority of the plaintiffs to control settlement arrangements.

2.         Contract Work.  A law firm’s agreement to pay someone for
working on a case does not constitute an equitable assignment of the client’s
obligation to pay.  Consequently, the
lawyer who did the work is entitled to some payment, he may  not recover it from the client.  Silverthorne v. Mosley, 929 S.W.2d 680
(Tex. App.–Austin 1996, writ denied).

3.         Greed.  For a case in which contingency fees got way
out of hand over many years and over which the court expressed substantial
exasperation, see In re San Juan Dupont Plaza Hotel Fire Litigation, 50
F.Supp.2d 100 (D.P.R. 1999).  A court
described the litigation as having been paralyzed for years by fee disputes and
that the litigation over the fee distribution part of the case had “‘long since
out-distanced the substantive part.’”  Id.
at 102.  Some fees were substantially
reduced.

4.         Court Review:  Courts have the authority to set aside
contingency fee agreements.  For a
lengthy discussion of a philosophical basis for contingency fees, and their
relationship to court ordered fees, see Cambridge Trust Co.  v. 
Hanify & King Prof.  Corp.,

430 Mass.  472 (1999), Nebraska State
Bar v.  Miller
, 258 Neb.  181 (1999) (discussed among other problems).

5.         Written Agreement.  In many states, contingency fee agreements
must be in writing.  In re Spak,
719 N.E.2d 749 (Ill.  1999).

6.         Collection Efforts.  An up-front contingency fee agreement
normally includes collections efforts, so that law firms may not seek
additional fees upon the grounds of having to collect.  Dardovitch v.  Haltzman, 190 F.3d 125, 142 (3rd
Cir.  1999).

7.         Remedies.  Courts can order the repayment of excessive
fees.  Uy & Kinigstein v. The
Bronx Municipal Hospital Center,
182 F.3d 152 (2nd Cir. 1999).  This rule obviously applies to contingency
fees.  It is also important to note that
standards for ordering the repayment of privately-contracted-for legal fees are
different from the standards either for fee-shifting statutes or for fee-related
Rule 11 sanctions.

8.         Stockholder Derivative Actions.  Non-monetary results that benefit a
corporation can justify the award of attorneys’ fees.  Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396
U.S. 375, 395-96 (1970).  See Seinfeld
v. Robinson
, 676 N.Y.So.2d 579 (N.Y. App. 1998).  However, when the benefits conferred upon the
corporation are illusory, the lawyer bringing the action not only receives no
fees, but also risks sanctions under federal Rule 11.  Kaplan v. Rand, 192 F.3d 60 (2nd Cir.
1999) (reversing a fee award by the district court and mandating that the
plaintiff’s lawyers receive nothing. “An argument. . .could be made,
on the basis of the contentions. . .advanced by plaintiffs’ counsel
[at the end of the suit], that the extensive claims originally made in this
case had no chance of success and, accordingly, were made for the improper
purpose of early settlement and the allowance of substantial counsel
fees.”  Id. at 72.
35

9.         Criminal Cases.  Contingency fees in criminal cases are
unlawful.  There is some theoretical
dispute about this, although not much in practicality.  See Lindsey D. Dogfrey, Notes: Rethinking
the Ethical Ban on Criminal Contingent Fees: A Commonsense Approach to Asset Forfeiture
,
79 Tex. L. Rev. 1999 (2001)
(advocating the heavily regulated use of contingency fees in criminal cases,
while discussing key judicial decisions in previous law review articles).

F.         Legal Fees and Bankruptcy.  This is a complex topic, well beyond the
scope of this outline.  However, if an
attorney gouges in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding, that may very well
constitute a defalcation while acting as a fiduciary.  In re Hayes, 183 F.3d 162 (2nd Cir.
1999) (discussion of many significant cases). 
Payment to an attorney precedent to bankruptcy in the form of stock can
easily be a preferential transfer, subject to avoidance.  In re First Jersey Securities, 180
F.3d 504, 513 (3rd Cir. 1999). 
Contingency fees charged in bankruptcy cases should be in accordance
with state law.  In re Mailman Steam
Carpet Cleaning Corp.
, 212 F.3d 632 (1st Cir. 2000) (contingency fee
agreement describing an aggregate fee equal to the greater of 43% of any
recovery or the attorney’s overall time charges based on specified billing
rates inconsistent with Massachusetts law).

G.        Interpretation.  Sometimes contingency fee contracts will be
interpreted in a reasonable–even gentle–way and in favor of the client.  Thus, if a lawyer has a percentage
contingency fee, it will generally be taken to be a percentage of the net
recovery.  Thus, if a client is found
liable for $1 million but recovers $700,000 on a counterclaim, the lawyers
contingency fee will be taken out of the $300,000 recovery.  Levine v. Bayne, Snell & Krause,
40 S.W.3d 92 (2001).  It was absolutely
amazing that lawyers from Texas needed to be told this.

H.        Subtle Gouging?  One of the characteristics of the gouging
lawyer–particularly big-firm lawyers–is to overwork cases.  Frequently, corporate clients virtually
encourage this, because they are frightened. 
Lawyers are ingenious at painting bleak scenarios of what might happen
if everything doesn’t go just so.  When
this happens, not only are lawyers permitted to overwork cases, they are urged
to do so.  Truly it cannot be ethical to
set up this sort of situation.

Yet, don’t law firms frequently over-document
cases?  I recently heard of a relatively
simple antitrust case tried in Texas by counsel from the upper midwest, where
they transported one hundred boxes of documents to the courtroom.  All of the documents–every page!–had been
computer indexed.  Surely this was
excessive.

J.          The Fantasy of the Billable Hour.  This is the title of a chapter in Benjamin
Sells’ Order in the Court:  Reflections on the Essence of the Law
101-04 (June 1999).  Sells points out
that “the basic problem is that it is impossible to quantify intellectual
work.”  Id. at 102.  Exploratory thoughtfulness–a process
necessarily characterized by imagination, hypothesis, rejection, modification,
replacement, and variation–is extremely difficult to translate into temporal
terms.  For this reason, Sells says that
“the billable hours of fantasy, [are] a fiction that we use as a rough
approximation for measuring the lawyering process in terms of an economic
construct.  Everyone knows you cannot
encapsulate creativity and intellectual insight, and as long as we remember
this going in we’re O.K.  If we lose our
way we begin to take the billable hour seriously.”  Id. at 103.  Undoubtedly, Sells is right for some aspects
of some legal practices.  The problem is
that recognizing the truth he asserts creates a new temptation.  Lawyers billing by the hour should always
err in favor of the client.  This should
become deeply ingrained and habitual.
36

K.        Quantum Meruit.  Many states require that fee agreements be in
writing.  Some states permit lawyers to
obtain quantum meruit recoveries, even when there is no written fee agreement.  Gagne v. Vaccaro, 766 A.2d 416 (Conn.
2001) (unjust enrichment conflated with quantum meruit).




L. Lawyer’s Own Fees.  If a lawyer sues a client for the failure to pay a fee, fee entries in both the underlying case and in the py-my-fees case will be examined and scrutinized in the usual way. If L has been sued by C for malpractice, and L counterclaims for fees, then L’s fees in the contract claim (“Pay my fees, scoundrel.)  are recoverable, but not L’s fees in the defense of the malpractice claim.  It is not a contract case; it is a tort case.  This rule means that L’s fees must be carefully segregated. McMahon [C] v. Zimmerman [L], 433 S.W.3d 680 (Houston Court of Appeals [1st Dist.] March 27, 2014, no petition to TxSpCt). Here C lost the malpractice case, and L got only a very modest sum in the contract counter claim. I have my doubts about this decision. See my blog essay, “Divorce Cases and Disputed Attorney Fees, Quinn’s Commentaries on Lawyers and Lawyering, February 5, 2015.




                31 Symposia
on tobacco cases comprise 33 Ga. Rev. (Spring
1999) and 22 S. Ill. U.L. J. (Spring
1998).  See Dan Zegart, Civil Warriors: 
The Legal Seige on the Tobacco Industry (2000)
,  Michael Orey, Assuming
the Risk:  The Mavericks, The Lawyers,
And Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco
(1999), Carrick Mollenkamp, The People vs. Big Tobacco:  How the States Took On the Cigarette Giants
(1998), and Peter Pringle, Cornered:  Big Tobacco at the Bar of Justice
(1998).  See also David A. Kessler, Regulation
of Tobacco:  Health Promotion and Cancer
Prevention,
36 Houston L. Rev.
1597 (1999).


                32 For some
other recent interesting cases, see Goldberger v. Integrated Resources, Inc.,
209 F.3d 43 (2d Cir. 2000) (affirming the trial court’s denial of a contingency
fee amounting to 25% of a recovery and affirming an award of 4% of the recovery
based on the Lodestar method), Petrovic v. Amoco Oil Co., 200 F.3d 1140 (8th
Cir. 1999) (contingency fee of 24% approved), Waters v. Int’l Precious Metals
Corp., 190 F.3d 1291 (11th Cir. 1999) (substantial contingency fee enforced in
a class action brought by customers against a commodity futures brokerage firm
and its brokers), Savoie v. Merchants Bank, 166 F.3d 456 (2d Cir. 1999),
Gaskill v. Gordon, 160 F.3d 361 (7th Cir. 1998)(Posner, C.J. refusing to
increase a multimillion dollar fee award), In re Texaco, Inc. Shareholder
Litigation, 20 F. Supp. 2d 577 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), Teamsters Local Union
705 v. Ligurotis, 142 F.3d 1004 (7th Cir. 1998) (ERISA class action),
Wallace v. Fox, 7 F. Supp.2d 132 (D. Conn. 1998), In re Computron
Software, Inc., 6 F. Supp.2d 313 (D.N.J. 1998) (using percentage-of-recovery
method to award attorneys fees in the amount of 25% of settlement award), In
re
Coply Pharmaceutical, Inc., 1 F. Supp.2d 1407 (D. Wyo. 1998), In re
PaineWebber Ltd. Partnerships Litigation, 999 F. Supp. 719 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)
(calculating fees through the use of the lodestar method), Fournier v. PFS
Investments, Inc., 997 F. Supp. 828 (E.D. Mich. 1998), In re Prudential
Securities, Inc. Ltd. Partnerships, 985 F. Supp. 410 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)
(extraordinary settl
ement entitled to extraordinary fees); Berlinsky v.
Alcatel Alsthom Compagnie Generale D’Electricite, 970 F. Supp. 348 (S.D.N.Y.
1997); In re Combustion, Inc., 968 F. Supp. 1116 (W. D.
La. 1997); In re Marian Merrell Dow, Inc., Sec. Litig., 965 F. Supp. 25
(W.D. Mo. 1997) (28% attorneys’ fee award would be fair for class counsel); In
re
Quantum Health Resources, Inc., 962 F. Supp. 1254 (C.D. Cal. 1997)
(reducing class counsel fee from 30% to 10%).
                33 For a
comprehensive treatment of this matter, see Gabriel J. Chin and Scott C. Wells,
Can A Reasonable Doubt Have An Unreasonable Price; Limitations on Attorneys’
Fees in Criminal Cases
, 41 B. C. L.
Rev.
1 (1999).


                34 For a
systematic discussion of deficiencies in the contingency fee system, see David
Luban, Speculative Justice:  The
Ethics and Jurisprudence of Contingency Fees,
in Stephen Parker and Charles
Samford, Legal Ethics and Legal
Practice:  Contemporary Issues

89-126 (1995).


                35 See
Ralph K. Winter, Paying Lawyers, Empowering Prosecutors, and Protecting
Managers:  Raising the Cost of Capital in
America
, 42 Duke L. J. 945,
948-53 (1993) (noting that a large percentage of stockholder derivative actions
are brought solely to collect attorneys’ fees.” ).


                36 Here are
several interesting recent writings on legal bills.  Kevin M. Quinley, Litigation Management (1995).  This book is published by the International
Risk Management Institute, Inc. in Dallas, Texas.  This institute services the insurance
industry, and this book is widely read in insurance industry circles.  There is a three article symposium in 11 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 189-244 (Winter
1998).  The articles concern honesty in
billing, when time should be charged, and the ethics of contingency fees.  Michael H. Trotter, Profit and the Practice of Law: 
What’s Happened to the Legal Profession
(1997) is a graceful book
which is partly a history of the legal profession, partly observations on the
Atlanta Bar, and partly  a meditation on
billable hours.  It is worth reading.  For a more comprehensive and systematic
treatment of billing issues see William G. Ross, The Honest Hour:  The Ethics
of Time-Based Billing By Attorneys
(1996).  For a discussion of this book and problems it
raises, see Michael Sean Quinn, Attorneys’ Fees and Lawyers’ Billings:  A Tale of Emperors’ Old Clothes, 10 Envt’l Claims J. 131 (1997). For a
polemical and somewhat dyspeptic treatment of legal fees and the role of money
in the law generally, see Macklin Fleming, Lawyers,
Money, and Success:  The Consequences of
Dollar Obsession
(1998).  (Macklin
Fleming is a California judge.)  For a
discussion o
f this book see Michael Sean Quinn, Legal
Fees and Legal Audits
, 11 Envt’l
Claims J.
1 (Autumn 1998).  See
also Cameron Strecher, Double
Billing:  A Young Lawyer’s Tale of Greed,
Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair
(1998).  For a discussion of this book, see Michael
Sean Quinn, Lives Lawyers Lead, 11 Envt’l
Claims J.
2 (1999).

Originally posted on 01/16/2015 @ 7:23 pm

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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