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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilech 5783

P'ninat Mishpat: How Much Pay for the Fired Lawyer? part I

(based on ruling 82149 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) hired a lawyer (=def) to represent her in divorce proceedings and asked her to do so in Rabbinical Court. According to their first contract, the base fee was 30,000 NIS, which covered 3 hearings in one tribunal plus another 15,000 NIS if there are (up to two) hearings in another tribunal. Beyond that, each hearing would be 2,000 NIS. The get was done in the Rabbinical Court. Soon thereafter, def sued for support on pl’s behalf in the (secular) Court for Family Matters. Months later, the ex-husband sued for division of property in court, which pl claims caused her to be suspected of stealing from their joint account. Pl and def began to argue, and a second agreement was made, limiting the fee to 30,000 NIS under certain circumstances. A month later, pl fired def, with complaints about def’s suing for support in the courts instead of the Rabbinical Court and over not suing the ex-husband over property (we will not get into the two sides’ arguments on these issues). When pl asked def for relevant documentation from her tenure, def demanded 45,000 NIS to receive it, which pl paid. Because pl claims that def’s whole work was flawed and damaging, she demands that all of the payment be returned. [Def also raised questions about whether she agreed to the second agreement and whether pl was bound by an agreement not to make claims against defto be explained and discussed next time.]


Ruling: The first matter is to reject pl’s claim that the whole fee must be returned. The contract was based on representing pl through different parts of the adjudication, which def did, and it states that def is to get paid for what she did even if pl fired her. Even if there is truth in the complaints against some of def’s actions and another approach would have worked better, pl did not prove that def did not take her job seriously or was negligent in her work.

Whether def deserves the extra 15,000 NIS is a better question, as pl says that she opposed taking the support claims to another tribunal, although it might have been necessary anyway since the ex-husband sued in court. It appears that this disagreement precipitated the second agreement. There it says that only if the case in court required more than two hearings, would there be a need for the 15,000 NIS addition, which would cover another two hearings. Because this agreement was written at a time that there already had been two hearings in both the Rabbinical Court and the secular one, the condition must have referred to another two beyond that, as the language implies. Also, it does not say in the second agreement that the lowering of the fee is conditional on def’s continued work for pl. Another reason to accept pl’s reading of the agreement is that def’s claims included many statements that needed to be retracted due to inconsistencies. Therefore, since def did not do any significant work after this agreement was made, the second agreement indicates that the fee should be 30,000 NIS.

We continue next time.

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