Meet Alice. She has a legal claim against Bob. She contracted Larry the lawyer to represent her in this matter and essentially run the case for her on a no win no fee percentage of damages commission basis.

Midway through the case after Larry has done some work on it and as above acquired a contractual interest in the matter, Alice decides she is either unhappy with Larry’s work and doesn’t need him any more. Either she will find someone else or she will simply take it over herself.

She therefore retracts her authorisation for Larry to continue to represent her in the matter. But Larry was expecting a portion of the damages to be recovered which would in turn partially depend on his own performance. However he has also given consideration in the form of the portion of work he has already done.

Is Alice allowed to un-appoint Larry at this point and even if she is is it a breach of contract? And what recourse does Larry have and what would the remedy look like?


1 Answer 1


The client can always terminate the solicitor-client relationship at will, without penalty. This is a principle recognized in professional codes and at common law. This principle is based in the importance of trust and confidence in the solicitor-client relationship. A client should never be forced to continue to rely on a lawyer; correspondingly, a client cannot be penalized for terminating the relationship. The corollary is that a lawyer never can rely on any contractual expectation of seeing a matter through to its completion. See generally Brickman, below.

However, where a lawyer is working for a client on a contingency fee basis, and the client terminates the relationship (and even when the lawyer terminates the relationship with cause), the lawyer is entitled to:

  • payment according to any termination clauses in the agreement, or, in the absence of such clause;
  • on a quantum meruit basis (meaning the lawyer is entitled to reasonable fees for their work).

See e.g. Green v. John M. Richter Law Corporation, 2018 BCSC 1840, at para 36.

Where the amount cannot be agreed to by the lawyer and former client, provincial legal-profession statutes generally provide for review and assessment of the fees by a member of the court.

The law appears to be different in other jurisdictions. For example, in Colorado, it appears that in order to recover on a quantum meruit basis, the contingency-fee agreement must expressly provide for this liability. See "Quantum Meruit!: The Rights of the Discharged Contingent Fee Lawyer," discussing Elliott v. Joyce, 889 P.2d 43 (Colo. 1994).

But see Lester Brickman, "Setting the Fee When the Client Discharges a Contingent Fee Attorney" (1992) 41 Emory L.J. 367, noting that, at least in 1992, a "majority of jurisdictions" in the U.S. had adopted the rule that the "discharged attorney... is ... entitled to a quantum meruit recovery."


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