Generally speaking, a lien is defined as a security interest held by a creditor to guarantee reimbursement from a debtor for money owed. An attorney liens are liens against a current or former client’s legal claim based on attorney work conducted for that claim. In the State of Massachusetts, the situations in which an attorney is authorized to file an attorney lien is provided in Section 50 of the MA Gen Laws. Section 50 does not apply to attorney fees expressly provided by statute. The instances under Section 50 when an attorney can establish an enforceable attorney’s lien are generally limited to claims where the attorney institutes an action, counterclaim, or other proceeding in any court. This also includes appearances by the attorney before any state or federal department and/or board or commission as detailed in the rule. In these above described situations, an attorney has a legally recognized attorney lien which can be attached to their former client’s claim. The lien for fees must be reasonable under section 50. A determination of whether the lien is valid can be made by the court in which proceedings were instituted or by the Superior Court if the claim isn’t pending in any other courts. In addition, the hierarchy of courts which enforce valid attorney liens is identical to the one implemented when determining their validity, as described above.
While the instances where a valid attorney lien can be filed in Massachusetts are limited, there is another method an attorney can utilize to seek quantum meruit recovery. Quantum meruit refers to the monetary worth of services rendered. There are three requirements which need to be satisfied for an attorney to pursue quantum meruit recovery for services rendered on a former client’s claim. First, the attorney seeking recovery has to have detailed in the contingent agreement, signed by the client, that the attorney is entitled to quantum meruit recovery in the event the legal relationship is terminated. This is clearly laid out in Professional Responsibility Rule 1.5 which was adopted by the state of Massachusetts and updated on March 15th, 2012. The second requirement is that the attorney provides the client and the new attorney (it can be provided directly to the new attorney if client waives receiving the lien) an itemization of work done on the file within twenty (20) days of receiving notification from the client they are terminating their legal relationship. The last requirement is that the claim is actually settling and the client is being compensated for their claim.
Any attorney handling a personal injury claim for a client who had former representation should have language which states how the prior attorney will be compensated if they have established an attorney’s lien or are entitled to quatum meruit recovery. If the subsequent attorney’s contingent agreement is silent as to how prior attorney compensation is to be dealt with, then it is presumed to be coming from the claim’s total proceeds. Whether the client is responsible for paying the prior attorney directly or the attorney will do so from the claim’s proceeds when it resolves. Here at Rob Levine and Associates we know how to handle prior attorney liens and make sure you the client are not in the dark.