An attorney working on contingency basis leaves the case without being fired by his client. The client hires a second attorney on contingency basis. The second attorney wins the case. Is the first attorney entitled to any part of the judgment?
In Texas the controlling case is Mandell v. Wright. Each set of facts is different so the answer depends on many factors.
The attorney may be entitled to part of the judgment. Every state is different. As Daniel stated, in Texas, it depends on a number of factors and one of the leading cases is Mandell v. Wright. Generally speaking, if the first attorney was hired on a contingent-fee basis and she was discharged without cause, then that attorney may be able to recover in "quantum meruit" from any damages the client recovers. Quantum meruit is basically a fancy term that means the lawyer may be entitled to compensation for the work that he put into the client's file prior to being discharged. If the first attorney "left" the case, or fired the client, then there is a high probability he did not retain a fee interest. When the second lawyer took the case, best practice would have been to obtain documentation from the first lawyer stating that she was releasing the file and explicitly stating whether the first lawyer was retaining a fee interest.
We have handled this situation many many times over the 24 years I have been licensed. This happens all the time. On a personal injury case in Texas, where the attorney quits (that is, is not fired, but quits because he doesn't think it will be worth his time), then he does not get paid.
The Mandel case referred to applies if you fire the attorney. It means that if the you fire the attorney then he gets paid in full if he was fired without cause, and gets paid hourly if he was fired for cause. That doesn't apply here.
Don't worry about this situation. Your new attorney (if he is experienced) has dealt with this many times and will communicate with the old lawyer and the insurance company.
Be sure to hire a new attorney immediately. I have seen too many cases where the first lawyer quits and the client waits and the case is ruined by the statute of limitations. Find an attorney who won't quit. You probably can't handle this on your own, even if you think you can.
Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about personal injury law.
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on their profile in addition to the information we collect from state bar associations and other organizations that license legal professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do not.What determines Avvo Rating?Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, educationLegal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awardsLegal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagementsDiscipline