In Friedman v Park Cake, Inc., 2006 NY Slip Op 08171, a disgruntled client attempted to avoid compensating his attorney after his personal injury lawsuit settled for $90,000, alleging that his attorney failed to advise him of a medical lien. He argued that the alleged oversight was legal misconduct and thus grounds for discharge of counsel.
In reaching its decision, the First Department first set forth the applicable law regarding termination of legal counsel:
It is well settled that a client may terminate his relationship with an attorney at any time, with or without cause...Where the discharge is for cause, the attorney has no right to compensation or a retaining lien, notwithstanding a specific retainer agreement... Ordinarily, conflicting claims would necessitate a hearing to determine whether an outgoing attorney was discharged with or without cause. (Internal citations and quotations omitted.)
The Court noted that the client did not seek to terminate his attorney "until after the attorney had already completed his services and had obtained a settlement that was even more favorable than the trial court anticipated" and that the retainer agreement and the firm's "General Instructions to Our Client's" both discussed the client's responsibility for liens and the any lines would be deducted from any recovery. The Court then held that while it would have been advisable for the attorney to have discussed specific liens with the client, the failure to do so did not constitute grounds to deprive his attorney of his fee.