In Soni v. Wellmike Enterprise Co. Ltd., 2014 DJDAR 3828 (2014), the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District affirmed a well established principle under California law. Law firms and attorney litigants may not recover attorney fees when they represent themselves in litigation.
A law firm performed legal services for a business. The firm brought an action for breach of contract due to the non-payment of attorney fees. The firm prevailed and then sought over $100,000 in legal fees incurred in the breach of contract action.
The firm acknowledged that an attorney who is self-represented is generally not entitled to recover attorney fees, but argued that it did not represent itself in the litigation. The firm argued that it hired “outside counsel” or “independent contractors” to represent them in the suit to recover attorney fees. The defendant countered that the attorneys who worked on the unpaid fees case were employees of the firm and that attorney fees were not recoverable under well established case law.
The court of appeal affirmed, noting that law firms and attorney litigants may not recover attorney fees when they represent themselves. Thus, when members of a firm represent the firm in a case, no recovery of attorney fees is permitted.