Effect of Attorney's Discharge on Duty to Pay Fee
Ira Mark Ellman
Arizona State University College of Law; Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Psychology; Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley
California Law Review, Vol. 61, p. 397, 1973
This article examines the California Supreme Court’s decision in Fracasse v. Brent, which upset the century-old rule of Baldwin v. Bennett which required a client to pay the full contract fee to an attorney discharged without cause. The court reasoned that the Baldwin rule unduly restrained a client from exercising his absolute right to discharge his attorney at will. The court concluded that limiting damages by the quantum meruit measure would be more consistent with this right while adequately protecting the discharged attorney's interest.
This article concludes that in this case the California Supreme Court has provided the client with substantially increased protection in his purchase of legal services, joining a growing minority of states. Although the court’s reasoning may occasionally be confusing, the result strikes the proper balance between the client’s rights to choose his attorney and the attorney’s interest in fair compensation for the effort he has expended in the client’s behalf. Protection of the expectation interest, never as compelling as the reliance interest in any event, is particularly difficult to justify in the attorney-client contract. Although in the commercial context such a measure of damages may provide a useful restraint on breach of contract, in this case it only frustrates the statutory policy of allowing the client the absolute right to discharge an attorney in whom he has lost confidence. After Fracasse, every attorney is forewarned that every contract he enters into is subject to the client's right of discharge.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 10
Keywords: Contract Law, Attorney Client Relationship, Fracasse v. Brent
Date posted: October 8, 2009
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