The recent case Ferguson v. Strutton involved claims for the partition of several pieces of real estate. The client retained her attorney through a contingency fee contract which entitled the attorney to “thirty-three and one third percent of whatever may be recovered, whether in money or property, or whether recovered through suit or compromise.”
The client settled her case and received 338 acres of the land. She originally offered her attorney a specific parcel of property as his fee, but then changed her mind and gave him nothing. He sued and was awarded $135,804.06, an amount equal to one-third of the appraised value of the 338 acres.
The Missouri court of appeals reviewing the case reversed the award for money. It held the fee contract expressly provided the attorney one-third of whatever was recovered and, because the client’s recovery was real estate, the attorney’s fee was therefore “an undivided one-third interest in the property recovered by the client as a result of the settlement of the partition suit.”
Every person who wants to hire an attorney should know that the amount and method of the attorney’s payment is negotiable. The attorney and client in the Ferguson case agreed that the attorney would receive one-third of whatever the client received. In this case, it happened to be real estate.