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Consolver v. Hotze

Court of Appeals of Kansas

March 20, 2015

MAHNAZ CONSOLVER, Appellant,
v.
CHRIS HOTZE, Defendant, BRADLEY A. PISTOTNIK and the AFFILIATED ATTORNEYS of PISTOTNIK LAW OFFICES, P.A., Appellees

Page 1095

Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; J. PATRICK WALTERS, judge.

Reversed and remanded with directions.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. Absent a contract term governing termination, a client discharging a lawyer retained on a contingent-fee basis typically must compensate the lawyer for the reasonable value of the services provided. The equitable doctrine of quantum meruit or unjust enrichment governs.

2. Under a quantum meruit theory, a party conferring a benefit on another party is entitled to recover the value of the benefit conferred if the recipient knew of the benefit and retention of the benefit without compensation would be inequitable under the circumstances.

3. A client has the right to terminate a contract for legal representation at any time with or without good cause.

4. Payment based on quantum meruit depends on the value or worth of the benefit to the recipient. The recipient ought to owe an amount roughly equivalent to what he or she might reasonably expect to pay on the open market for the goods or services constituting the benefit.

5. A quantum meruit payment is fundamentally incompatible with a contingency fee for legal services. By design, a contingency fee builds in a premium over and above the fair market value of the services provided to account for the risk of no recovery--and, thus, no payment--not only in that case but in other cases the lawyer considers or takes.

6. The lodestar method of calculating attorney fees provides a sound foundation for determining a quantum meruit award. A court makes a lodestar fee calculation by determining a reasonable hourly rate for the legal services and multiplies that by the reasonable number of hours required to handle the litigation. In addition, the court should take into account the criteria outlined in Kansas Rule of Professional Conduct (KRPC) 1.5(a) (2014 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 515) for determining the reasonableness of a fee, excluding whether the fee is fixed or contingent. A lodestar computation, folding in the relevant KRPC 1.5 criteria, should generate a fee amount approximating the fair market value of the services a lawyer has provided to a client and, thus, the value of the benefit conferred for a quantum meruit award.

Stephen L. Brave, of Brave Law Firm, LLC, of Wichita, for appellant.

Jennifer M. Hill, of McDonald, Tinker, Skaer, Quinn & Herrington, P.A., of Wichita, for appellee.

Before SCHROEDER, P.J., BUSER and ATCHESON, ...


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