• August 5, 2010

[UPDATE:  In this lawsuit, defendant settled, but failed to pay up (and failed to pay its attorneys).  Questions to be decided:  how to compel the defendant to make good on the settlement agreement?  Are Minnesota litigators stuck defending a client who appears unable to pay?  This week, U.S. Mag. Judge Arthur J. Boylan (D. Minn.) devised a plan to get defendants to settle up and to get the lawyers off the hook.]

There is a broad societal consensus, if maybe not a deep understanding or appreciation of legal costs and investments, that lawyers are “too expensive.”  (“Too expensive,” in comparison to what?  Medical care? Don’t think so.)

However, one point seems fairly evident and non-controversial:  if lawyers are compelled to work for free for certain clients, the law of supply and demand dictates that this sacrifice of time and income increases the cost of legal services to paying clients.

Lawyers compelled to work for free for certain clients??? 

In United States federal court (and in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, of course), lawyers agree to represent litigants in civil litigation understanding that withdrawal of representation for non-payment of attorneys’ fees is not a foregone conclusion.  From time to time, lawyers are compelled to continue representing non-paying parties (see here, for example).  In Godes v. Skipperliner Industries, a case before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery (D. Minn.), it would appear that defense counsel would like to withdraw from representation but might be compelled to stay the course, at least for a little while.  Plaintiffs’ counsel is arguing to the Court that defense counsel’s effort to withdraw is “without good cause.”

It seems clear that courts will not let such situations become truly onerous on lawyers.  For example, in Lieberman v. Polytop Corp., 2 F. App’x 37, 39-40 (1st Cir. 2001) (unpublished) (per curiam), the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling that plaintiff’s lawyer could not withdraw when he was owed $80,000 in unpaid fees.

This pragmatic recognition also seems to have been appreciated by U.S. Mag. Judge Arthur J. Boylan (D. Minn.) in Gold’s Gym Licensing, LLC v. K-Pro Marketing Group, Inc., 2009 WL 3520858  (D. Minn. Oct. 26, 2009).  It remains to be seen whether Judge Boylan, the Magistrate Judge in the Skipperline Industries case, will ask defense counsel to stay in the case to the bitter end (which would not appear to be far off).

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