Leighton v. Forster

Since a non-contingent contract for attorney fees between a lawyer and client must be in writing and signed by both parties in order to be enforceable, agreement which client never executed was not enforceable, and the statute of limitations had already passed on a quantum meruit action by the lawyer.  Under B&P Code 6148, a non-contingent fee agreement between a lawyer and client must be in writing and be signed by both parties. Here, the lawyer sent the client’s husband an email copy of the proposed fee agreement but never asked for or obtained the client’s signature on it. Also, the husband never accepted the fee agreement by email; his email just said that he would review it. The lawyer could not fit within section 6148(d)(2)’s exception for continuation of representation under a prior fee agreement, since her prior agreement was with an attorney representing the client, not with the client herself and it covered a substantially different type of legal work (research and writing, not actual in-court representation). The client could not and did not waive section 6148’s protections by allowing the lawyer to continue representing her. The client could and did implicitly void the unsigned fee agreement under section 6148(c) by not paying the attorney’s fee bill. Though the attorney could have recovered the reasonable value of her services by suing for quantum meruit, she waited more than two years after terminating the legal representation to do so. Accordingly, her claim was time-barred under CCP 339. She could not avoid the time bar by pleading an account stated because even if the client had agreed to pay the fees, there was no antecedent agreement in writing, so the account stated claim was also governed by a two-year limitations period.

California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 4 (Ruvolo, P.J.); February 9, 2017; 2017 WL 527320

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