Summary of Holmes v. Y.J.A. Realty Corp, 128 A.D.2d 482 (1987)
Facts: Pl alleged that she was injured after slipping and falling on a defective step at an apartment building owned by Dfs –landlords (YJA), and Yori Abrahms. A written retainer agreement was executed by Abrahams on behalf of himself and YJA when Goldman was hired. That agreement provided that his legal fees would be billed at $125/hr for law office activity and $400 per day for each court appearance. His itemized bill indicates that a balance due of $2275 remained after crediting payments of $3500. Goldman claims to have demanded payment for five mos before the current motion, but Dfs refused and Yori verbally berated and abused him w/ accusations of disloyalty and conflicts of interest.
Issue: Whether counsel has the right to withdraw after litigation has ensued when the client refuses to tender payments for legal services received and lodges accusations at counsel?
Holding: Yes, if a client make representation unreasonable or deliberately breaches an agreement for legal services.
Procedure: Pl sought to recover damages for PI sustained during slip and fall. Attorney Goldman appealed from denial on his motion to be relieved as counsel for the Dfs. S. Ct NY motion to withdraw is granted.
Rule: An attorney’s withdrawal from employment is permissible where a client “renders it unreasonably difficult for the lawyer to carry out his employment effectively." DR 2-110(C)(1)(d).
Rationale: Once representation of a client in litigation has commenced, counsel’s right to withdraw is not absolute. The Code of Prof. Responsibility also provides for relief were a client “deliberately disregards an agreement or obligation to the lawyer as to expenses and fees." Where a client repudiates a reasonable fee arrangement there is no obligation by the attorney to finance the litigation for the client or render gratuitous service.
Df will have ample time to retain new counsel, and the Pl will not be prejudiced by any delay in the trial attributable to a withdrawal.