Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow v. Fieger & Fieger, PC (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
The Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC, brought an action against Fieger & Fieger, PC (the Fieger firm), asserting that the Fieger firm breached its referral- fee contract with plaintiff when the Fieger firm refused to pay plaintiff 20% of a contingent fee that the Fieger firm had received after it successfully represented several clients in a personal- injury and no-fault action related to an automobile accident in Ohio. The primary question in this case was whether, in order to enforce a fee- splitting agreement, MRPC 1.5(e) required the referring attorney to have an attorney-client relationship with the individual he or she refers. The Michigan Supreme Court held that it does but that the relationship could be limited to the act of advising the individual to seek the services of the other attorney if the referring attorney and client expressly or impliedly demonstrate their intent to enter into a professional relationship for this purpose. Consequently, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment to the extent that it held to the contrary. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court, however, that the defendant bore the burden of proving noncompliance with MRPC 1.5(e) when the defendant raised the violation of the rule as a defense against enforcement of the referral agreement. The result in this case was that the trial court properly instructed the jury that an attorney-client relationship was required but erroneously instructed the jury about the burden of proof. This error required a new trial as to only one of the potential clients at issue.