This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Linda S. S. de Beer, d/b/a/
de Beer & Associates, P.A.,
Carver County District Court
File No. 10CV05210
Linda S. S. de Beer, de Beer & Associates, P.A., 8653 Eagle Point Boulevard, Lake Elmo, MN 55042 (pro se respondent)
Scott G. Swanson,
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s judgment for attorney fees, arguing that respondent’s withdrawal from representation violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.4, relieving appellant of the obligation to pay attorney fees that were outstanding at the time respondent withdrew from representation. Appellant also argues that the award of collection costs and attorney fees was excessive. We affirm.
Appellant Christine Callahan retained Linda S. S. de Beer, d/b/a de Beer & Associates, P.A., to represent her in post-dissolution proceedings in the district court. Callahan signed and initialed all but one of the paragraphs of an “Hourly Fee Agreement” with de Beer. The agreement provided, in relevant part, that Callahan was required to pay each monthly statement in full within 30 days after the billing-statement date, that failure to do so could result in de Beer terminating representation, and that Callahan agreed to reimburse de Beer for court costs and reasonable attorney fees resulting from collection efforts.
Initially, Callahan was able to pay the fees as billed, but after more than ten weeks of nonpayment and appropriate notice from de Beer that she was terminating representation, de Beer withdrew from representation three weeks before the scheduled trial date. Callahan proceeded to trial pro se and was awarded $10,000 in attorney fees, payable in monthly installments by her former spouse, none of which was paid or assigned to de Beer.
Seven months later, de Beer sued
“Generally on appeal from a judgment
where no motion for a new trial was made, ‘the only questions for review are
whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such findings
sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.’” Novack
v. N.W. Airlines, Inc., 525 N.W.2d 592, 596 (
“The standard of review for an
appellate court examining an award of attorney fees is whether the district
court abused its discretion.” Gully v. Gully,599 N.W.2d 814, 825 (
Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.16(b)(5) allows an attorney to withdraw from representation if “the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled.” Callahan does not challenge the reasonableness of notice but argues that she did not fail substantially to fulfill an obligation to de Beer. The district court, however, concluded that Callahan’s failure to pay outstanding attorney fees justified de Beer’s withdrawal. We agree.
Callahan argues that “usually” a
family-law judge will not allow withdrawal if a matter is scheduled for trial
and cites 14 Martin L. Swaden & Linda A.
Withdrawal of representation frequently arises in situations where the client is not paying his or her attorney fees. If the withdrawal of representation for non-payment of fees is addressed in the retainer agreement, and if the client is given warning, the attorney should be able to formally withdraw from the case. In order to withdraw, notice of withdrawal must be served on all parties who have appeared and their attorneys, and appropriately filed with the court. No order from the court is necessary.
Callahan’s reliance on comment 4 to Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.4, which she cites for the proposition that a lawyer who agrees to represent a client must complete representation, is also misplaced. The rule addresses communication issues between attorney and client, and comment 4 explains that communication will minimize a client’s request for information from an attorney. We find the comment irrelevant to the issue before us.
Callahan cites Spearman v. Salminen, 379 N.W.2d 627 (Minn. App. 1986), for the
proposition that in family law, the preferred method for an attorney to
withdraw from representation is by motion to the district court. Spearman
involved a client who did not accept an attorney’s case assessment or advice and
insisted on tactics that the attorney thought were inadvisable.
§ 221 (1980) for the proposition that “[a]n
attorney may withdraw for justifiable and lawful cause, upon leave of the
court.” But Spearman was decided before the adoption of
Callahan argues that the district court did not place an appropriate burden on de Beer regarding the fee arrangement and incorrectly relied on contract law. Callahan’s first argument appears to rely on the C.J.S. statement that because
lawyers almost always possesses the more sophisticated understanding of fee arrangements, it is therefore appropriate to place the balance of the burden of fair dealing and the allotment of risk in the hands of the lawyer in regard to fee arrangements with clients.
7A C.J.S. Attorney & Client § 378 (2004). But Callahan has not demonstrated that de Beer failed to meet any “burden of fair dealing,” and the fee agreement at issue does not involve any allocation of risk. The district court’s detailed findings of fact demonstrate that it fully considered the fee agreement and concluded that it was valid and enforceable. The agreement states in a number of locations, and in bold type, that if there is a balance due on the account, the attorney has the right to withdraw from representation. Callahan provides no evidence that she did not understand the agreement or that the agreement was unjust or unfair.
The district court cited Voigt v. Jones, 404 N.W.2d 830 (
In a footnote, Callahan cites In re Estate of Lee, 214
II. Award of costs of collection
Callahan argues that the district court’s award to de Beer was excessive and erroneous. Although Callahan did not argue to the district court that de Beer’s asserted costs were unreasonable, she did argue that de Beer increased the costs of collection by making various motions in the collection action. The district court commented that, in its experience, the amount of fees, costs, and interest seemed “excessive.” But the district court stated that there was nothing in the record that would allow it to make a finding that the costs, fees, and interest should be in any specific lesser amount. We agree. Generally, an award of attorney fees “rests almost entirely within the discretion of the [district] court and will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.” Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999). Aside from arguing that de Beer could have used a collection agency rather than pursuing litigation, Callahan does not argue that any specific bills or billing amounts are unreasonable or excessive. The record supports the district court’s award, and the court did not abuse its discretion.
 The un-initialed paragraph did not refer to attorney fees or collection of attorney fees.
Callahan erroneously asserts that de Beer
initially brought a conciliation-court action in
 The district court erroneously referred to Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.16(b)(3) in reaching this conclusion, which clearly uses the language of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.16(b)(5).