Robinson & Cole LLP v. Ryan
A court can enforce a retainer that indicates the law firm will receive an attorney's fee based on its proportionate contribution to settlement, prior to the law firm's discharge. On April 3, 2009, Richard Ohanesian was in a motor-vehicle accident. Ohanesian's conservator, Todd Warner, hired the law firms of Robinson & Cole and Riscassi & Davis. Attorney David Ryan, a partner at Robinson & Cole, had primary responsibility at the law firm for the Ohanesian matter. Between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010, Ryan worked as a salaried attorney, pursuant to a written employment contract, at Robinson & Cole. On Dec. 2, 2010, Ryan allegedly informed Ohanesian's conservator that he intended to leave Robinson & Cole. Prior to December 6, when Ohanesian's conservator discharged Robinson & Cole as his law firm, the plaintiff in the Ohanesian matter filed an offer to compromise in the amount of $11 million. On Jan. 3, 2011, the defendants in the Ohanesian matter accepted the $11 million offer. Ryan did not file a new appearance, and Robinson & Cole remained counsel of record. In February, the Probate Court awarded attorneys' fees of $2.75 million to Robinson & Cole and Riscassi & Davis. Robinson & Cole sued Attorney Ryan, alleging that Ryan wrongfully attempted to take clients away from Robinson & Cole in 2010, in breach of a written employment contract that provided that Ryan would work at the law firm for one year and help to transfer his clients to other Robinson & Cole attorneys. Robinson & Cole requested a declaratory judgment that Ryan was not entitled to part of Robinson & Cole's attorneys' fee in the Ohanesian matter. Robinson & Cole argued it was entitled to the fee, even if Robinson & Cole was discharged as legal counsel before the Ohanesian matter settled. Ryan objected that language in the law firm's retainer contract with Ohanesian's conservator was ambiguous. "Pursuant to the contract," wrote the court, "Robinson & Cole is entitled to a fee based on its proportionate contribution to the ultimate settlement." The court added, "Robinson & Cole's claim that it is entitled, pursuant to paragraph (b)(1) of the contract, to a 100% proportionate share of the fee is correct."