Baker v. Zikas – Case Brief Summary (Nebraska)

In Baker v. Zikas, 176 Neb. 290, 293, 125 N.W.2d 715, 717 (1964), the Nebraska Supreme Court quoted with approval a decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court discussing the distinction between liability regarding an ordinary contract and one for legal services and the reasons therefor:

"'It is a misconception to attempt to force an agreement between an attorney and his client into the conventional modes of commercial contracts. While such a contract may have similar attributes, the agreement is, essentially, in a classification peculiar to itself. Such an agreement is permeated with the paramount relationship of attorney and client which necessarily affects the rights and duties of each. As we have seen, despite the agreement but as an incident to the relationship, a client has full power to discharge his attorney without cause at any time, being liable only in such event for the reasonable value of the services rendered.'"

The issue before the Baker court was whether a law firm was entitled to recover under a contingent fee agreement when the law firm's services were terminated by the client prior to any recovery.

The Baker contract was a basic contingent fee agreement providing a contingent fee of 40 percent of the amount recovered.

The Baker court held that the original contingent fee contract was no longer in effect following the client's termination of the law firm's services and, therefore, "the maximum reach of the law firm's right to fees was the reasonable value of its services actually rendered to date of discharge." Id. at 294, 125 N.W.2d at 718.

The Baker court determined the reasonable value of the services rendered.