Washington’s Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs) govern and limit the fees
Washington lawyers can charge their
clients. RPC 1. 5(a) requires attorney
fees to be reasonable and sets forth nine
nonexclusive factors courts consider in
determining the reasonableness of a fee.
Among these factors is “whether the fee
is fixed or contingent.” RPC 1. 5(a)( 8).
RPC 1. 5(e)( 1)(i) further states that, in the
absence of an express agreement, attorney fees shared by lawyers who are not
in the same firm may be made only if the
division is “in proportion to the services
provided by each lawyer . . . ” 1
Generally, a Washington attorney
who is discharged prior to full performance on a contingency fee contract is
entitled to receive not the contingent
fee agreed upon, but rather reasonable
compensation for the services actually
rendered. Ramey v. Graves, 112 Wash.
88, 91, 191 P. 801 (1920). Courts often
refer to this measure of compensation
as quantum meruit, which means simply
“reasonable compensation for services
However, Washington courts allow an
exception for an attorney discharged after
substantially performing the duties owed to
a client. Goncharuk v. Barrong, 132 Wn. App.
745, 749, 133 P.3d 510 (2006). This exception applies where “minor and relatively
unimportant deviations” remain to accomplish full contractual performance. Id. In
the context of settlement of a contingent fee
case, “an attorney substantially performs
when his efforts make settlement ‘
practically certain,’ even if settlement occurs after
the attorney is discharged.” Id.
With respect to cases that are not relatively near resolution at the time of transfer,
absent an agreement to the contrary, the
discharged attorney is entitled to compensation in quantum meruit for the reasonable
value of services rendered to the client.
Kimball v. Pub. Util. Dist. No. 1, 64 Wn.2d
252, 257, 391 P.2d 205 (1964). Occasionally,
attorneys have claimed that quantum meruit
compensation is restricted to the hourly
value of predecessor counsel’s time, and