Most medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury lawyers in Maryland are hired by clients through a contingency fee agreement. In such an arrangement, the law firm generally is paid a legal fee based upon a percentage of the total amount recovered in the case plus expenses. If there is no recovery, there is no legal fee or expense. But what happens when the client fires the lawyer before there is any recovery.
The Maryland Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to address this issue in the case of Brault Graham v. Law Offices of Peter Angelos. A copy of the court’s decision can be found here..
According to the court, “the client’s power to end the relationship is an implied term of the retainer contract,” and therefore, “if the client terminates the representation, with or without cause, the client does not breach the retainer contract, and thus, the attorney is not entitled to recover on the [contingency] contract.” The Court then made it clear, however, that an attorney may be entitled to recover legal fees on a quantum meruit basis. According to the court: “[W]here a client has a good faith basis to terminate the attorney-client relationship but there is no serious misconduct warranting forfeiture of any fee, the attorney is entitled to compensation based on the reasonable value of services rendered prior to discharge, considering as factors the reasonable value of the benefits the client obtained as a result of the services rendered prior to discharge and the nature and gravity of the cause that led to the attorney’s discharge.”
The Court explained that, in allowing a discharged attorney to recover the reasonable value of services rendered prior to discharge, “the court ‘preserve[s] the client’s right to discharge his attorney without undue restriction, and yet acknowledge[s] the attorney’s right to fair compensation for work performed.’
The bottom line is that people should be free to hire and fire an attorney if they want to. But if the attorney who is hired on a contingency fee agreement has not done anything wrong, the attorney may be entitled to compensation for the value of his/her services.
As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I routinely enter into contingency fee agreements. If you have a question about such an agreement, call me. To see some of the cases I have handled, click here.