July 9, 2008
A client retained an attorney in a personal injury case but, shortly thereafter, they "began having difficulty with their attorney-client relationship." The lawyer withdrew when the client threatened a bar complaint. He then sued for fees based on his hours, which was allowable under the terms of the retainer agreement. The trial court refused to award any legal fees, finding that the lawyer had failed to prove that the attorney-client relationship had been "irretrievably broken."
The Utah Supreme Court reversed. The issue with respect to withdrawal is whether or not it was for "good cause." The issue is a question of law, but the determination whether good cause exists for withdrawal "is extremely fact-intensive." The trial judge's application of an "irretrievably broken" higher standard of proof required reversal. On remand, the court is directed to apply the proper legal standard without a further evidentiary hearing.
I would tend to believe that an attorney-client relationship is well on its way to "irretrievably broken" when the client threatens a bar complaint. (Mike Frisch)
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