e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 20571
Opinion Date : 10/07/2003
e-Journal Date : 10/09/2003
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Morris & Doherty, P.C. v. Lockwood
Practice Area(s) : Attorneys Contracts
Judge(s) : Jansen, Neff, and Kelly
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Breach of referral fee agreement; Whether the practice of law includes referrals; Method of defining the term lawyer regarding the MRPC and fee splitting; License; Whether the contract required defendant to engage in the practice of law; Whether the contract required performance obligating defendant to engage in the law business


The trial court erred by denying plaintiff's motion for summary disposition regarding its request for declaratory relief and granting defendant's motion for summary disposition regarding breach of contract, because the referral fee agreement between an attorney and an inactive attorney was not enforceable. Defendant, who became a law school professor and placed her State Bar of Michigan membership on "inactive" status, referred a third party to plaintiff, who refused to pay defendant a referral fee because of her "inactive" status. Defendant was not a member of the state bar and was not entitled to represent or designate herself as a lawyer because her "inactive" status deprived her of a "license" or privilege to practice law in Michigan and she was not authorized to practice law. The court held public policy voided the contract, ab initio because it would require plaintiff to violate the MRPC's prohibition against sharing legal fees with someone not permitted to practice law, i.e. inactive members of the state bar, and broad prohibition against paying for referrals. Reversed and remanded for entry of summary disposition in favor of plaintiff.

Full PDF Opinion