These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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6-Lawyers Paid by Third Party

16-Lawyer's Personal Interests

36-Withdrawal from Representations

A lawyer replacing another lawyer who had been discharged "without cause from representation in a contingent fee matter" must advise the client of the discharged lawyer's possible lien — to which the discharged lawyer will be entitled on a quantum meruit basis. Among other things, such a replacement lawyer must advise the new client that she may be responsible for "combined fees in excess of the contingent fee" arranged with the now-discharged lawyer. The replacement lawyer should also include in a "proposed contingent fee agreement with the client" several provisions, including: the Virginia law "regarding perfection of attorneys' liens and quantum meruit awards available to attorneys discharged without cause;" the possibility of the client's possible obligation to pay both the discharged lawyer and the replacement lawyer; and "who bears the expense (legal fees and court costs, if any) of determining predecessor counsel's fee entitlement, to include the cost of adjudicating the validity and amount of any claimed lien, through an interpleader action or otherwise." It may be appropriate for the client to receive legal advice about these issues from a lawyer other than the replacement lawyer. Fee contracts are not treated in the same way as other contracts, because they "stand on a different footing" given lawyers' duties to their clients. The replacement lawyer may represent the client in negotiations with or litigation against the discharged lawyer, "but at no additional charge to the client" (if such negotiations will not increase client's recovery in the case, but instead only increase the replacement lawyer's contingent fee share). If the replacement lawyer's representation "is materially limited by a concurrent conflict of interest [because the replacement lawyer has a personal interest in such a negotiation], the client's informed consent must be obtained pursuant to [Virginia] Rule 1.7(b)."

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn