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A lawyer who briefly acted as co-counsel in the successful Rena Weeks sexual harassment suit against Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie seven years ago is not entitled to a slice of the contingency fee — despite a fee-sharing arrangement with the lead attorney in the case, California’s First District Court of Appeal has ruled. The justices concluded that the fee-sharing agreement between San Francisco attorneys Arthur Chambers and Philip Kay, who acted as lead counsel in Weeks’ case, was illegal in the first place. The justices said the attorneys failed to get their client to sign off on the deal in writing — a requirement laid out in rule 2-200 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Still, the court left the door open for Chambers to pursue remuneration from Kay for the services he provided before getting kicked off the case in September 1993, before the trial began. “Although both appellant and respondent failed to comply with the requirements of rule 2-200, appellant did perform legal services and advanced costs in the Weeks case that contributed some benefit to the client and respondent,” wrote Justice Douglas Swager in approving Chambers’ quantum meruit cause of action. Presiding Justice Gary Strankman and Justice James Marchiano concurred. Kay, Chambers and their respective attorneys did not return calls Wednesday. The attorney fee fight in Chambers v. Kay, 01 C.D.O.S. 3412, stems from the successful sexual harassment suit against Baker & McKenzie brought by Weeks, a former legal secretary at the firm’s Palo Alto, Calif., office. Chambers worked on the case as co-counsel for the better part of 1993, but Kay ultimately removed him from the case because of his “differing approach” to the case and his “failure to consult me.” San Francisco attorney Alan Exelrod signed on as new co-counsel. A jury awarded Weeks $6.9 million in punitive damages in 1994, but Judge John Munter reduced that to $3.5 million. The First District affirmed the judgment and an attorney fee award; Kay and Exelrod collected approximately $1.9 million in September 1998. A few months later, Kay sent Chambers a letter informing him that the fee agreement they’d negotiated was invalid due to Chambers’ “failure to perform legal services” and the “wholly improper accounting” in his billing statement. Chambers sued the following year, arguing that under their fee agreement he was entitled to roughly $500,000 plus interest. But the First District on Monday refused to enforce the agreement, which it deemed illegal because of the attorneys’ apparent failure to consult Weeks about the fee sharing deal. Swager said the professional rule’s “clear and unambiguous language … imposes a categorical restriction on a division of fees without the client’s written consent, so we must follow it.”

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