Tuesday, August 28, 2001
C.A. Says Law Firm Represented By Employee-Lawyers Entitled to Attorney Fees
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A local law firm represented by its attorney-employees in a malpractice action was entitled to recover attorney fees, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
In an unpublished opinion filed Aug. 1 and obtained yesterday by the MetNews, the court ruled that the Basich Law Corporation was acting much like a corporation that uses its in-house counsel to represent it.
Just like the corporation in the state Supreme Court’s opinion last year in PLCM Group, Inc. v. Drexler, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Boland wrote for Div. Seven, Basich was drawing on its in-house lawyers, and was not representing itself in pro per.
Boland is sitting on assignment in the Court of Appeal.
The ruling reverses the decision of Boland’s colleague, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Josh M. Fredericks.
Fredericks rejected the attorney fee request, saying the situation was too much like the one in a 1995 case in which the state Supreme Court ruled the law firm seeking fees was actually representing itself in pro per when it sent its own lawyers into court.
But Boland pointed out that in that case, Trope v. Katz, it was partners in the firm of Trope & Trope that went into court. The firm could have gotten fees if it had hired a lawyer, the high court ruled, but instead the firm’s principals did the work themselves. Since they were working in pro per, they were not earning fees from a client and consequently could not recover fees, the court reasoned.
In PLCM it was different because an attorney-client relationship was created, even though the attorneys were part of the firm they represented, the court held.
The Basich case was similar, Boland said. He noted that as a corporate entity Basich could not appear and defend itself in pro per but had to be represented by counsel. In this case, the counsel came from in-house.
“While not designated corporate in-house counsel, the attorney-employees functioned in a similar capacity,” he said. “The record reveals the strong indicia of an attorney-client relationship between the attorney-employees and Basich. The pleadings, correspondence and other documents produced during the litigation state the attorney-employees represented Basich.”
Transcripts, likewise, showed that they were appearing for the firm, as did their timesheets, Boland said. No meaningful distinction could be drawn between a corporation using in-house counsel and the law firm, he said.
The case is Corder v. Basich Law Corporation, B141594.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company