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Court allows a lawyer who was not licensed to sue for legal fees

Beery v. Chandler, Dist. Court, ED Missouri 2015 – Google Scholar.

Plaintiff sued his former personal injury lawyer for legal malpractice, alleging that the lawyer negligently advised him to reject a settlement offer. The lawyer sued for legal fees under breach of contract, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment theories. Plaintiff moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that the lawyer was not licensed in Missouri.  Plaintiff noted that the Missouri state court had denied the lawyer a lien on the recovery on the ground that the lawyer was not licensed.

The district court rejected that argument apparently on the ground that the lawyer was licensed in Illinois and appears to have done work on the case. There is some suggestion that the lawyer indicated on his stationery that he had an office in Missouri.

This ruling is troubling. An unlicensed lawyer was able to compete with Missouri lawyers without taking the bar exam or submitting to the ethics rules of Missouri. Why should he be able to collect fees from Missouri residents? Apparently, the court viewed the issue as a technicality and concluded that the lawyer did the work and could seek to recover. If we are serious about licensing attorneys, this ruling makes no sense. Under the same theory, couldn’t a nonlawyer argue that he worked on a case and should be paid as a lawyer?

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.