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Suppose a charity is providing free legal services as part of serving their charity's mission. Can the charity make these services contingent on a contractual promise that the plaintiff will not settle without the charity's permission? A cash settlement might be missing things the charity cares about (public record of the defendant's wrongdoing, promise of changed behavior, etc.) This result is frustrating for the charity; the charity's reason for providing free legal services was not to make money on contingency.

Clarification: The intent of such a contract would be to block a plaintiff from accepting a settlement offer without the charity's permission. It would not prevent the plaintiff from withdrawing entirely.

Note: Responses corresponding to other jurisdictions are welcome.

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  • The issue here will be that a lawyer would be working for the client alone, they cannot work for both a client and the charity. The idea that the settlement must benefit the charity and not necessarily the client is counter to US practice.
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 18, 2022 at 19:55
  • Usually you will get a settlement exactly because the defendant doesn’t want to admit any wrongdoing. So this contract would cost the client a lot of money. I’d tell the client to take the money, and then they can afford their own lawyer if the charity tries to sue them.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 19, 2022 at 6:45
  • @gnasher729: The whole scenario just feels a bit unfortunate, since a charity might be willing to take on a longshot case for a client that would otherwise be unable to find a lawyer, but might not do so since has negative expected value (otherwise a for-profit lawyer would have taken the case) AND can't be used to achieve any benefit but a minor slap on the wrist for the company.
    – Brian
    Aug 19, 2022 at 13:08

1 Answer 1

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No

The lawyer works for the client irrespective of who pays their bill or salary. Legally and ethically they must act in the client’s and only the client’s best interest. If it is in the best interest of the client to settle then that is what the lawyer must advise the client to do.

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  • Well, the contract could be indirect. E.g., the charity signs a contract with the client and funds the lawsuit. The lawyer need not have any relationship with the charity. Something like the Thiel-Gawker case.
    – Brian
    Aug 19, 2022 at 1:06
  • @Brian and how does the lawyer deal with the conflict of interest?
    – Dale M
    Aug 19, 2022 at 3:53
  • The lawyer asks the client what they want to do and the client says, "I don't want to settle because [charity] handed me a pile of money, which I'm using to pay you." Mind you, the lawyer will probably respond, "Meh, just break your contract. The settlement offer is high enough to pay for the damages." Such a contract might be somewhat useless, even if it's enforceable.
    – Brian
    Aug 19, 2022 at 13:04

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