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Kim & Bae, P.C. v. Eunsung Electric, Co., Ltd.

BER-L-7233-08 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

ATTORNEYS FEES — Where a law firm represents itself in an action, it is, in essence, acting pro se and the fees a law firm might charge itself are not strictly speaking attorneys fees and therefore the law firm is not entitled to collect those fees pursuant to a contractual provision or pursuant to Court Rules.

A law firm sued its client for the attorney’s fee and received a favorable jury verdict, though not for the full amount it sought. After the jury’s verdict, the law firm, for the first time, sought attorney’s fees incurred in the prosecution of its collection action. The retainer agreement expressly stated: “If legal proceedings are begun to collect any outstanding amounts, you [the client] will be responsible for any reasonable legal fees and costs associated with collection of amounts due the Firm.” The law firm lost for two reasons. First, it failed to raise the claim in the primary litigation itself. The second reason was that the firm represented itself in the collection action. In essence, it acted pro se. “The fees a lawyer might charge himself are not, strictly speaking, attorney’s fees and where a lawyer represents himself, legal fees are not truly a cost of litigation – no independent lawyer has been hired (or must be paid) to pursue a complaint.” The Court, in making its ruling, looked to a prior case that “noted that the word ‘attorney’ generally assumes some kind of agency relationship.” Therefore, an attorney that represents himself is acting pro se and is not entitled to collect attorney’s fees pursuant to a contractual provision or pursuant to the Court Rules.

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