Fincher v. Phillips, 2011 Ohio 968, Court of Appeals of Ohio, March 4, 2011.
Facts: Phillips represented Fincher in the negotiation of a plea in the underlying criminal matter. Phillips charged Fincher $15,000. After the plea was entered into and Fincher was sentenced to eight years in prison, he sued Phillips for legal malpractice and alleged that his fee was unreasonable.
In an affidavit, Phillips provided an expert opinion that his representation had not breached the standard of care, and that the $15,000 retainer was a reasonable fee that was based on his specialized knowledge, professional skill and judgment. Fincher filed a brief in opposition to the motion, but failed to furnish any contrary expert testimony in support of his claim of unreasonable legal fees.
The trial court ruled in favor of Phillips in light of FIncher’s failure to produce an expert report.
Issues: Was expert opinion necessary to contest the reasonableness of Phillips’ attorney’s fees.
The Court of Appelas ruled:
The determination of legal fees involves several factors including the time and labor required, the difficulty of the issues involved, and the requisite skill needed to provide the legal service. Prof.Cond.R. 1.5. This is not within the ordinary knowledge of laymen. Establishing malpractice for charging excessive fees clearly necessitates expert testimony.
In his motion for summary judgment, appellee provided expert testimony that the $15,000 retainer was reasonable. Appellant’s brief in opposition provided no expert testimony or other evidence refuting this claim. Unopposed expert testimony is sufficient to determine that there is no genuine issue of material fact.
Lesson: In Ohio, the former client will not be able to successfully contest the reasonableness of a claim for unpaid attorney’s fees without expert testimony.