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Slater v. Jacobs





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JAMES R. WATSON, Judge, presiding.


Howard R. Slater and Donald A. Kahan, d/b/a Slater and Kahan, attorneys at law, brought a five-count second amended complaint against defendants, Dr. Raymond L. Jacobs, Dr. Robert Wurman, and Fullerton-Ashland Medical Center, Ltd., to recover attorneys' fees for services rendered to defendants.

In his answer, defendant Dr. Jacobs denied the material allegations of count I. Dr. Jacobs counterclaimed against plaintiff Slater, alleging that he and Slater entered into an oral contract wherein Slater would charge him on a time-incurred basis, at an hourly rate customarily charged by attorneys in the Chicago, Illinois, area for similar services; that $5,000 was paid to Slater as an advance against time incurred by Slater; that Slater refused to furnish him with a statement of time incurred on his behalf; that he believed that Slater had overcharged him to the extent of $2,500.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs on count I in the sum of $12,500 and in favor of plaintiff on defendant's counterclaim. Judgment was entered on the verdict and defendant's post-trial motion was denied.

Defendant Dr. Jacobs appeals from the judgment and denial of his post-trial motion, contending, inter alia, that the jury's verdict was excessive and contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

At trial, plaintiff Slater testified that plaintiffs had, prior to the subject matter of this litigation, done other legal work for defendant Dr. Jacobs. Statements would be sent when the work was completed, and all fees were paid.

Slater testified that for approximately 1 1/2 years prior to the institution of Dr. Wuman's lawsuit in the summer or fall of 1971, he had numerous telephone conversations and meetings with Dr. Jacobs regarding certain disputes between the physicians. He also had conferences with Dr. Wurman's attorneys. He told Dr. Jacobs that there would be no fees until the matter was resolved.

After the suit was filed, Dr. Jacobs called Slater, asked him to defend him, and then went to plaintiffs' office for a conference. The action sought dissolution of the partnership and partition of the real estate upon which they conducted their practice, which real estate was in a land trust.

In defense of the suit that had been filed against the defendant, Slater did research, prepared pleadings, attended six or seven sessions of Dr. Wurman's deposition, and had settlement conferences with Dr. Wurman's attorneys. At Slater's direction, Dr. Jacobs began negotiating directly with Dr. Wurman.

In the summer of 1972, a settlement was reached, and the action was dismissed with prejudice. Slater participated in the drafting and review of the documents necessary for incorporation, and was "fully paid" for these services.

Slater testified that on November 2, 1972, the night before final settlement papers were signed, he told Dr. Jacobs that he was entitled to a $20,000 fee. Plaintiffs had broken down the legal services into two bills, one to a corporation that defendant was involved with for $7,500 and one to Dr. Jacobs for $12,500. The bill for $12,500 was exclusive of the $5,000 that was originally paid to Slater.

Defendant Jacobs testified that the highest figure Slater gave him at the initial conference was $15,000. He stated that at a conference the following day, Slater gave him a figure of $50 per hour for office time, and $75 per hour for court time, and that he would get a credit for the $5,000 advance against time incurred in defense of the suit.

• 1 We commence our consideration of the issues herein with the undisputed principle that an attorney who renders professional services has a right to be compensated for such services. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 13, par. 1; In re Estate of Bort (1st Dist. 1966), 75 Ill. App.2d 322, 221 N.E.2d 24.) Where a client and his attorney enter into an express contract for representation, the express contract will control the compensation due the attorney. Where an express contract is not entered into, there is generally an implied promise to pay a reasonable compensation for the services rendered by the attorney under quantum meruit. Neville v. Davinroy (5th Dist. 1976), 41 Ill. App.3d 706, 710, 355 N.E.2d 86.

• 2 In Illinois, a plaintiff may recover under quantum meruit on a claim made under an express contract without amendment of the pleadings, where the plaintiff fails to establish the express contract but does show that in fact services were rendered. (Moreen v. Estate of Carlson (1937), 365 Ill. 482, 6 N.E.2d 871; People's Casualty Claim Adjustment Co. v. Darrow (1898), 172 Ill. 62, 49 N.E. 1005; Neville; Nardi & Co. v. Allabastro (1st Dist. 1974), 20 Ill. App.3d 323, 314 N.E.2d 367; Anderson v. Biesman & Carrick Co. (1st Dist. 1936), 287 Ill. App. 507, 4 N.E.2d 639.) Quantum meruit literally means "as much as he deserved." An attorney recovering thereunder compensation for services rendered is entitled to receive the reasonable worth or value of his services as shown by the evidence. Darrow; Neville; In re Estate of Bort; Sullivan v. Fawver (2d Dist. 1965), 58 Ill. App.2d 37, 206 N.E.2d 492.

In the case at bar, it is to be noted that the complaint alleges in paragraph two of count I that the defendant retained the services of the plaintiff to represent him but concludes in paragraph six "* * * the reasonable value of the services rendered * * *" by the plaintiffs to the defendant was not less than $20,000, and after applying the retainer of $5,000, there is a balance due and owing plaintiffs in the amount of $15,000.

• 3 Our courts> have long held that the factors to be considered in determining the reasonable value of the services are: the skill and standing of the attorney employed; the nature of the cause and the novelty and difficulty of the questions at issue; the amount and importance of the subject matter; the degree of responsibility involved in the management of the cause; the time and labor required; the usual and customary charge in the community; and the benefits resulting to the client. Louisville, New Albany & Chicago Ry. Co. v. Wallace (1891), 136 Ill. 87, 26 N.E. 493; Neville; Hofing ...

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