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It may be true, in this country at least, that a lawyer is worthy of his hire, but this does not mean that he is always to get what he thinks his hire should be. He may recover in quantum meruit the "reasonable value" of his services practically everywhere in the United States, but a series of recent cases has shown that there may nevertheless be obstacles in his way of recovering a definite and agreed fee. If such fee is contingent, it is, according to the Canons of Legal Ethics of the American Bar Association, subject to the supervision of the court, in order that the client may be protected from unjust charges. Except for this, the fee when fairly agreed upon is recoverable by a lawyer who has completed the promised service. If the lawyer is in default, he may by the better rule recover nothing. If, however, he is ready and willing to perform but is wrongfully discharged by his client, a conflict of authority has developed. Probably the majority of cases allow him in such case to recover his agreed fee, but the minority dissent has been reinforced by strong decisions in New York in 1916 and in Minnesota and South Dakota in 1920. Oregon, however, has recently decided with the majority without noting the opposing rule. The theory of what may perhaps be termed the New York rule, in view of the general resort to Martin v. Camp as authority, is that since the client has the "right" to discharge the lawyer at any time, the exercise of that "right" is not to be followed by the same duty of paying the agreed fee as though it had not been exercised.
Date of Authorship for this Version
A Mere Quantum Meruit for Attorneys’ Fees, 30 Yale Law Journal 514 (1921)