Clients who sign an engagement letter, seek representation in a specific state, and participate in a lawsuit must pay their invoices throughout their representation. While many clients pay without delays, other clients either contest, or worse, refuse to pay the invoices, cut contact with the law firm and move on with their lives as if they had never sought legal representation and had not sought and used the firm’s services.
In this situation, what can the law firm do? Of course, the law firm can sue for non-payment of invoices. In Florida, creditors have 5 years after the non-payment to sue in Court. Therefore, the law firm must sue within that time. The main question concerns the jurisdiction: where can the creditor sue the out-of-state client?
A person can always be sued in their home state. However, it can be difficult for a creditor to sue in the creditor’s own state. A Florida law firm can sue the out-of-state client if the client has had minimum contacts with Florida and if suing said client in Florida does not impose an undue burden and violate fair play and substantial justice standards.
Usually, a Client that hires an attorney from a Florida law firm will meet the “minimum contacts” requirement. Indeed, the client signed a contract in Florida, hired a Florida-licensed attorney from a Florida law firm, filed a lawsuit in Florida, and obtained a judgement in Florida. Most importantly, because the client hired the attorney to sue in Florida, he benefited from the laws and protections of the state of Florida.
There are five major requirements to sue an out-of-state Defendant: 1) Plaintiff’s interest in having the claim adjudicated in that forum, 2) the burden on the Defendant, 3) the Forum State’s Interests, 4) the Interest of the Interstate judicial system in resolving the dispute, and 5) the shared interest of the several states in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.
It is reasonable for the out-of-state client who has previously sued in Florida to expect to be sued in that state.
- Plaintiff has a strong interest in having the claim adjudicated in Florida as the firm is located in Florida, the lawsuit was performed in Florida, and the contract was signed in Florida.
- The burden on the Defendant seems minimal as Defendant has sued in Florida in the past: Defendant would not have sued there in the first place if it was inconvenient.
- Florida has an interest in handling the suit as a Florida law firm is seeking payment.
- The witnesses are in Florida, the evidence is located in Florida, therefore it would be more efficient to sue in Florida.
- There is no evidence that the client’s home state’s substantive policies would be undermined by permitting the case to go forward in Florida.
To protect themselves from this type of situation, law firms should include a choice of law and jurisdiction clause in their engagement letters. This way, the client agreed to bring a suit or be sued in Florida.
If your client has not paid the invoices and you wish to start a legal action, contact the experienced attorneys at EPGD Business law.