Legal Malpractice has become so complicated that
you need an expert to help figure it out.

KS: Written Retainer Constitutes Conclusive Proof of Attorney's Fees

Levy & Craig v. D.S. Sifers Corp., 147 P.3d 163, Kan. App. Div., Dec. 8, 2006

Facts: Defendants brought suit against their former clients for unpaid legal fees. Defendants served their former clients with a set of requests for admissions, which were deemed admitted after plaintiffs failed to answer.  Defendants then proceeded to file a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, and Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the admissions did not establish "that Levy and Craig provided competent legal services and that the fees charged by Levy and Craig were reasonable: 

[Plaintiffs argue] that since the contract was for professional services, the element of performance must incorporate [Defendants’] ethical obligations. Therefore…if [Defendants’] failed to present any evidence that [they] performed the contract competently and charged a reasonable fee, [they] did not establish a prima facie case for breach of contract. 

Issue: Does an attorney have an affirmative burden to establish that services were competently performed for a reasonable fee prior to seeking a judgment awarding unpaid legal fees? 

Ruing: No. 

The contract between [the parties] set forth hourly fees that would be charged…for [the] legal services. [Defendants] provided those legal services to Plaintiffs and billed accordingly for the services provided. [It is not necessary] that in an action to recover for attorney fees under a written agreement, the attorney must establish that the fees were reasonable…[W]hen there exists an express fee agreement for legal services and such legal services have been rendered, the contract establishes the amount of compensation owed to the attorney. An express contract fixing the compensation for an attorney’s service is usually conclusive, even if the contract did not bring the results the client had anticipated. 

The Opinion acknowledged that a while a claim for negligence or legal malpractice would impact the Court’s determination, it had not been timely raised by Plaintiffs. 

Finally, the Court noted that in an instance where no written retainer existed between attorney and client, the attorney would still be entitled to a "reasonable" fee for services rendered. 

Lesson: In Kansas, a plaintiff would be hard pressed to argue about the "reasonableness" of a fee where a written retainer exists, unless there is a claim for negligence and it is timely raised. 

Tagged with:

Posted in: Attorneys Fees