Attorneys are not immune from having a client that fails to pay a bill. In Missouri, an attorney must either typically file an independent suit for breach of contract, suit on account, unjust enrichment etc. to recover any unpaid legal services or file a motion to enforce an attorney lien. The latter is much more rare.
Attorney liens are governed by Sections 484-130-140, RSMo. Attorney liens are to be “remedial in nature” and will be “liberally construed.” McCoy v. Hershewe Law Firm, 366 S.W.3d 586, 598 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). Under § 484.130, an attorney lien automatically attaches from the commencement of an action or the service of an answer containing a counterclaim. Wright v. Bartimus Frickleton Robertson & Gorny PC, 364 S.W.3d 558, 566 (Mo. Ct. App 2011). The filing of the suit is all the notice required of the lien. Downs v. Hodge, 413 S.W.2d at 525. Once the lien attaches, a defendant who thereafter settles with a plaintiff without addressing the lien or securing its release does so at his peril. Wright, 364 S.W.3d at 567; see also Satterfield v. Southern Ry. Co., 287 s.W.2d 398 (Mo. Ct. App. 1956) (Missouri Courts “have been assiduous in devising for [attorney lien] enforcement”). To enforce an attorney lien under § 484.130, an attorney may proceed by an independent suit or by a motion in the original case. Satterfield v. Southern Railway Company 287 S.W.2d 395, 397 (Mo. Ct. App. 1956); Drake Development v. Jacob Holdings, Inc., 366 S.W3d 41, 45 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012); see also Curtis v. Metropolitan St. Ry. Co., 94 S.W. 762, 764 (Mo. Ct. App. 1906) (“the attorney may enforce his lien against the judgment itself – the res to which it is attached – in order that he may have the benefit of the liens and remedies belonging to his security”).
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