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159450 - Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC v Fieger & Fieger, PC

Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC,

 

James Gross

 

Plaintiff-Appellee,

 

v

(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)

 

 

(Oakland – Alexander, J.)

 

Fieger & Fieger, PC, d/b/a Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Harrington, PC,

 

Sima Patel

 

Defendant-Appellant.

 

Summary

The defendant law firm agreed to pay the plaintiff, an attorney, a referral fee with regard to four clients who were all injured in the same motor vehicle accident.  After the defendant obtained a settlement of approximately $10.5 million dollars, it refused to pay the referral fee and the plaintiff filed suit.  The defendant responded by arguing that the referral fee agreement was unenforceable as contrary to public policy because it did not comply with Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.5(e), which provides that a division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if the client is advised of and does not object to the participation of all the lawyers involved.  The case proceeded to a jury trial, where the trial court instructed the jury that the plaintiff had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that each client was his client in order for him to recover in relation to that client.  The jury returned a verdict finding that only one client was the plaintiff’s client.  The Court of Appeals, in a published opinion, held that the trial court reversibly erred in its instructions and verdict form.  The Supreme Court has granted leave to appeal to address: (1) whether MRPC 1.5(e) requires the client to have an attorney-client relationship with all participating lawyers; (2) if so, what are the parameters of such relationship and how is it formed; (3) which party carries the burden with respect to a contract’s compliance with MRPC 1.5(e), see Palenkas v Beaumont Hosp, 432 Mich 527, 548-550 (1989); and (4) if an attorney-client relationship with all participating lawyers is required under MRPC 1.5(e), whether reversal is required in this case.  See MCR 2.613(A); Cox v Bd of Hosp Managers for City of Flint, 467 Mich 1, 15 (2002).​