Thursday, August 7, 2008

Non-Compliance With New York Retainer Filing Requirement May Negate Fee Claims

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department recently held that the failure to timely file a retainer agreement, as required by law, is generally fatal to a claim for attorneys fees between lawyers:

With one exception, the motion court properly granted defendants summary judgment to the extent indicated in this fee dispute between attorneys, where plaintiffs failed to file retainer statements in compliance with Rules of the Appellate Division, First Department (22 NYCRR) ยง a prerequisite to receipt of compensation for legal services" (Rabinowitz v Cousins, 219 AD2d 487, 488 [1995]). Plaintiffs' belated filing of several of the subject retainer statements was insufficient to preserve their right to recover legal fees. Indeed, the record shows that these statements were only filed in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiffs did not seek permission to file the statements nunc pro tunc. Nor did plaintiffs offer a reasonable excuse for their failure to timely file (compare Matter of Abreu, 168 Misc 2d 229, 234 [1996]).

However, with respect to the first cause of action relating to the Brooks case, the record indisputably shows that plaintiff Fishkin filed a retainer statement on October 31, 1994, which was 18 months after he was retained, but only seven days after defendants belatedly filed their own retainer statement in the same matter. While the motion court may have been confused by Fishkin's later nunc pro tunc filing of an amended retainer statement in June 2006, we find that, taken together, Fishkin's initial 1994 filing and his 2006 nunc pro tunc filing create a triable issue as to whether there was sufficient compliance with 22 NYCRR 603.7(a)(3) to permit this action to proceed.

(Mike Frisch)

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