Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Supreme Court of Virginia
January 10, 1997, Decided
Record No. 961021
[*94] [**471] OPINION BY JUSTICE LEROY R. HASSELL, SR.
In this appeal, we consider whether a law firm that filed an action to collect legal fees from a former client is required to establish with expert testimony that the fees charged to the former client were reasonable. This appeal is presented to us in an unusual procedural posture in that the trial court sustained the defendants' motion to strike the [**472] plaintiff's evidence at the conclusion of the opening statements.
The law firm, Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson, a limited partnership, filed its motion for judgment against Lake Fairfax Seven Limited Partnership and Thomson M. Hirst, individually, alleging the following. The law firm was retained by the defendants to provide legal services related to a lease dispute between the defendants and a third party. The law firm executed a written "retainer agreement" with Lake Fairfax Seven Limited Partnership, and Hirst personally guaranteed payment of the legal fees. The retainer agreement specified [***2] hourly rates for the various attorneys who would perform the legal services.
The law firm "properly billed the defendants on a monthly basis at [the law firm's] ordinary and customary hourly rates for services rendered, as well as for incurred costs and disbursements. The retainer agreement expressly obligated the defendants to make full payment within 30 days from receipt of each monthly statement." The defendants discharged the law firm without cause, the law firm properly billed the defendants for services rendered as well as incurred costs and disbursements, and the defendants have refused to make full payment on the outstanding bills, leaving a balance due of [*95] $ 81,377.90. A copy of the written contract was attached as an exhibit to the motion for judgment.
The trial court entered a pretrial conference order which required, among other things, that the law firm identify its expert witnesses at least 90 days before trial. On the morning of trial, after counsel had made their opening statements to the jury, the defendants' counsel informed the court that the law firm had not identified any person who would render expert opinions at trial. The defendants asserted that the law [***3] firm was required to present expert testimony to establish the reasonableness of the fees charged and that the law firm could not do so because it had not identified an expert witness within the time prescribed in the pretrial order. The defendants' counsel, recognizing that his action was "a little premature," nevertheless filed with the court a written motion to strike the plaintiff's evidence.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
253 Va. 93 *; 480 S.E.2d 471 **; 1997 Va. LEXIS 10 ***
SEYFARTH, SHAW, FAIRWEATHER & GERALDSON v. LAKE FAIRFAX SEVEN LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, ET AL.
Prior History: [***1] FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY. M. Langhorne Keith, Judge.
Disposition: Reversed and remanded.
law firm, trial court, expert testimony, attorney's fees, fees charged, fact finder, defendants', hourly
Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Strike, General Overview, Legal Ethics, Client Relations, Attorney Fees, Evidence, Testimony, Expert Witnesses, Admissibility, Helpfulness