Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Moses v. Moses

Citation. Moses v. Moses, 140 N.J. Eq. 575, 53 A.2d 805, 1947 N.J. LEXIS 526, 173 A.L.R. 273 (E. & A. 1947)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellee engaged in extensive personal and telephonic conversations with her divorce attorney regarding matters other than the representation. Appellant challenged the court’s granting of attorney’s fees and expenses to his wife’s counsel.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is an obligation upon counsel, if he expects his fee to be paid by the other spouse, to control excessive demands upon his time, energy and intellect by the dependent spouse.

Facts. During a divorce proceeding appellee, Mrs. Moses, consumed many billable hours with her attorney, Mr. Fox, in personal and telephonic conversations. Indications suggested that large parts of the discussions were based upon Mr. Fox’s friendship with both Dr. Moses (appellant) and appellee, as well as his professional relationship with appellee. The calls occurred at all hours of the day and night and resulted in the attorney’s withdrawal from the case. The attorney averaged two hours a day, including weekends and holidays, working on appellee’s problems, with the only tangible result being a support order for appellee and the children of $275 weekly. No divorce occurred. Appellant appealed the courts award of attorney’s fees and expenses to his wife’s counsel.

Issue. Did the court err by rewarding excessive fees to be paid by appellant to appellee’s attorney?

Held. There is an obligation upon counsel, if he expects his fee to be paid by the other spouse, to control excessive demands upon his time, energy and intellect by the dependent spouse. In the present case the attorney failed to exercise such control.
The ABA’s code of Professional Responsibility sets forth the factors counsel should consider in determining the reasonableness of his fee: 1) The time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly. 2) The likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer. 3) The fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services. 4) The amount involved and the results obtained. 5) The time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances. 6) The nature and length of the professional relationship with the client. 7) The experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services. 8) Whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

Discussion. The Court lessened the attorney fees because the time and labor required, the results obtained, and the nature and length of the attorney’s professional relationship with appellee mitigated against the high fee.