Robert L. Wheeler, Inc. v. Scott Case Brief

Summary of Robert L. Wheeler, Inc. v. Scott, 777 P. 2d 394 (1989)

Facts: The client, a geologist-geophysicist, hired the atty-Wheeler to represent him when he was unable to repay a business loan, for a period of ten months. In the first five months the atty billed the client 524 hours, that was paid by the client. During the next five months the atty billed the client 753 hours, but was not paid. Two days before summary hearing, the atty informed the client that payment was expected or he would withdraw. He was not paid and did not withdraw, but instead sent a first year associate to the hearing . Opposition won the summary, the atty withdrew and the client later settled the case.

Issue: Whether, after summary judgment was entered against the client in a mortgage foreclosure proceeding, and after the trial court reduced the fee charged by the atty, was the atty fee still excessive?

Holding: Yes

Procedure: Orig action to recover atty fees, trial ct reduced hourly rate of associate and the total fee of atty. Ct of App affirmed, S. Ct. of Oklahoma Reversed and remand with instructions.

Rule : An atty’s fees should be reasonable.

Rationale: The reasonableness of atty fees is determined by balancing twelve factors: 1) Time and Labor–time alone is of dubious value. Time spent acquiring basic law school education is not a determinative factor of a reasonable attorney fee; 2) Novelty or difficulty of issues–One of the basic considerations in establishing the reasonable value of legal services is the type, extent, and difficulty of the services rendered; 3) The skill required–the attorney’s specific expertise must come into play to be considered a determinative factor; 4) Loss of opportunity–employment that compensation is sought deprived the atty of the opportunity to secure other employment; 5) Customary fee–consideration of the customary fee charged or allowed in similar services; 6) Fixed or Contingency Fee–based on the parties agreement, or the court may adjust the basic hourly fee where compensation is contingent by assessing the likelihood of success at the outset; 7) Time limitations–where an atty must adjust the firm’s other work load to accommodate the pressing needs of this client; 8) The amt involved and the results obtained–note whether the client settled and when; 9) Experience, reputation, and ability–standing in the profession for learning, ability, skill, and integrity is used as consideration in assessing the value of services provided; 10) Undesirability of the Case; 11) Casual or regular employment–the nature and length of the professional relationship between the client and atty. A regular client would expect a lower fee; 12) Awards in similar cases.

The trial court gave too much weight to the time spent on the case and failed to consider adequately the other applicable standards. It is obvious that much of time expended was unnecessary by any reasonable standard, and the fee allowed was excessive.

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