Selected cases in the area of professional
responsibility are covered.
Margolin v. Shemaria (2000) 102 Cal.Rptr.2d 502
In a breach of contract action, the Court of Appeal refused to enforce a fee sharing
agreement between attorneys. Attorney representing a client on a family law matter
referred her client to a personal injury lawyer to handle a tort matter. It was agreed
that the attorneys would split the fee in the tort case.
It also was agreed that the personal injury attorney would prepare a
retainer agreement that would provide the written disclosure and obtain the clients
written consent to the fee sharing arrangement as required by California Rule of
Professional Conduct 2-200. Al-though the client allegedly was present during discussions
about the fee splitting arrangement, it was undisputed that the personal injury attorney
did not provide a written disclosure nor obtain the clients written consent.
In rejecting the referring attorneys equitable estoppel
argument, the Court of Appeal reasoned that requiring a clients written consent is
an important public policy that impresses on a client their right to reject proposed
attorney fee sharing. Additionally, written consent benefits the involved attorneys
because it serves as evidence of the existence of the fee-sharing agreement and helps
ensure that the client will not later claim there was no consent.
Barner v. Leeds (2000) 24 Cal.4th 676
The California Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeal judgment reversing the lower
courts finding that a deputy public defender was immune from a legal malpractice
action brought by a convicted criminal defendant. The California Supreme Court concluded
that the actions of a public defender in representing an assigned client in a criminal
action generally do not involve the type of policy decisions that are within the scope of
immunity afforded by Government Code §820.2.