The client hired a law firm to recover $58,000 down payment on a house and to defend against the seller’s tort claim for emotional distress and attorney fees. After the underlying litigation was resolved, client settled with the law firm in a fee dispute, the law firm accepting $150,000 in full payment and with a release of its claims for $381,000 in fees. Then the client tried to back out of the settlement agreement. Held, the trial court properly granted the law firm summary judgment. Client’s expert declaration was properly excluded on the ground it was not based on any careful examination of law firm’s time sheets and overlooked many aspects of the underlying litigation, boiling down to the simple assertion that it was unreasonable to run up $381,000 in fees to obtain a $58,000 downpayment. There was no merit to the Client’s lack of consideration defense to the settlement agreement. The law firm gave up an arguably meritorious claim to $381,000 in fees in return for the $150,000 Client agreed to pay. Orange County Foundation v. Irvine Co. (1983) 139 Cal.App.3d 195 is distinguished as dealing with the problem of a gift of public funds and has not been applied to settlements of private litigation. The Client could not rescind the settlement agreement on the ground the law firm had not disclosed its potential liability for malpractice since the Client was well aware of the potential for such claims; the settlement agreement included a release by Client of such claims. Likewise, the Client couldn’t escape the settlement on the ground that he wasn’t advised to seek the advice of independent counsel since he actually did so anyway.
California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1 (Dondero, J.); August 9, 2018; 2018 Cal. App. LEXIS 702