Court awards attorney limited fee in pro bono-employee dispute
Alexander Lyzohub appealed after a judge awarded him $9,000.00 in attorneys fees from a $65,000.00 settlement he negotiated for his employee's injured child. He argued that he should received a one-third fee from the recovery based either on the original attorney's Fee Agreement, or based on the one-third contingency Fee Agreement which was allegedly unexecuted due to the negligence of his employee who was also the parent and Next Friend of the injured child.
The employee-parent-Next Friend argued that no fee was due because Lyzohub had agreed to manage the child's case for free [or "pro bono"]. The trial judge noted that it was the attorney's responsibility to assure that he had a written fee agreement, and therefore he could not claim a fee under the unexecuted agreement. He also found that there was no agreement to manage the claim for free. On that basis, he awarded a fee based on his reconstruction of the work actually performed by the lawyer. The Court of Appeals approved of this approach.
The Court further noted that the employee was not "estopped" to prevent enforcement of the unsigned fee agreement, and that the lawyer was mistaken in his argument that the trial judge had credited the Next Friend for work she performed on the case while it and she were in the office of the attorney.