Monday, March 24, 2008
The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed an order dismissing a complaint for unpaid legal fees because the law firm failed to give thirty-day Pre-Action Notice pursuant to New Jersey Rule 1:20A-6. The failure to provide the required notice "prohibited the initiation of this litigation." The firm had represented the client in two matters, one in Pennsylvania and the other in New Jersey. The Pennsylvania court entered judgment against the client when no one appeared as counsel for the trial. The client discharged the firm and hired new counsel for the New Jersey case. The Pennsylvania judgment was reversed as a result of the plaintiff law firm's efforts.
The rule and notice at issue gives the New Jersey "District Fee Committee jurisdiction to determine fee disputes between clients and attorneys by final and binding arbitration." The trial judge held that the law firm delayed filing its complaint "until the statute of limitations made it impossible to give Pre-Action Notice within the period of time mandated by the rule...To permit a [law firm plaintiff] to avoid the [notice] rule simply because a defendant opts not to participate in fee arbitration would render the rule nugatory." (Mike Frisch)