One of the many substantial challenges of a solo or small firm business litigation practice is getting paid. Blue chip multi-national companies, generally, tend not to hire solo/small firm trial lawyers. Folks like George E. Antrim III (and me) tend to work for smaller businesses or individuals.
And, as we all know, the legal fees for multi-year litigation can be substantial so that attorneys’ fees — even the best bargains you can find (years of experience and a low hourly rate like Antrim) (or me, I like to think) — will run hundreds of thousands of dollars for protracted litigation.
Then there’s the fact that, when your clients are individuals or smaller businesses, sometimes the client or the key person dies. With or without a terrible setback like that, getting paid can be extremely difficult.
Unfortunately for Mr. Antrim, his client, Mr. Azzam Sabri, died during a hard-fought three year battle over his rights in a Minneapolis retail center, which had a value in excess of $1 million. Still worse for Mr. Antrim, Mr. Sabri’s widow, Samar Sabri refused to pay attorney Antrim. Even worse, Samar Sabri transferred her interest in the Minneapolis retail center that Antrim had been hired to ensure to family member. Then she agreed to dismiss the lawsuit that her husband had brought, represented by Mr. Antrim, without telling Antrim.
And then came the coup de grace when Hennepin County District Court Judge Kerry W. Meyer, following a bench trial, held that Mr. Antrim was not entitled to his attorneys’ fees under any theory (contract, implied contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit), that he was not entitled to an attorneys’ lien on the Minneapolis retail center, and that Samar’s transfer of her interest to a family member was not a fraudulent transfer devised to “hinder, delay, or defraud” Antrim’s efforts to collect on the debt he was owed.
Fortunately for Mr. Antrim (and good news for all solo/small lawyers who deal with similar challenges), the Minnesota Court of Appeals viewed the Antrim’s claims and Ms. Sabri’s defenses differently. Mr. Antrim successfully reversed the trial court’s truly devastating ruling. The trial court’s ruling would have resulted in attorney Antrim’s having worked on a case for three years for nothing. It looks as if Mr. Antrim now will be able to get paid.