It’s like magic: California’s CC §1717 transforms a unilateral attorney fee provision in a contract into a reciprocal one! When the contract provides for attorney fees to either a particular party or the prevailing party, the prevailing party “on the contract” is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees regardless of whether that party was the party specified in the contract. But taking advantage of this statute depends on meeting the following five requirements.
The Ninth Circuit has made what some may call a pro-family ruling: Attorneys may recover fee awards in civil rights cases when they represent their spouses. Representing your spouse may not be a good idea — there’s a reason why surgeons don’t operate on their spouses — but it turns out that it may be lucrative.
This week, we profile attorney and CEB author Richard Pearl:
CEB: What is your practice area and how did you choose it?
Rich: My major practice area involves court-awarded attorneys’ fees. Mainly, that entails representing attorneys and/or their clients in actions that entitle the prevailing party to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees, in the trial and/or appellate courts. I also serve as an expert witness on attorneys’ fee issues, and have written the CEB book on this subject, California Attorney Fee Awards, as well as its annual updates. I do a fair amount of appellate work on non-attorneys’ fee issues as well, including punitive damages issues.
I got into court-awarded attorneys’ fees in the late 1970’s when fee-shifting statutes started proliferating. I was the Director of Litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a statewide legal services program for the poor, and had responsibility for making sure that it recovered any fees to which it was entitled. When I went into private practice in 1982, court-awarded attorneys’ fees was an expertise that clients were willing to pay me for, that was crucial to my own law firm’s public interest work, and that allowed me to work with great lawyers and facilitate important public interest work.