Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

An Attorney Representing Himself Cannot Claim Attorney’s Fees For The Time That He Spends Prosecuting His Own Claim

It is often a phone call from a carrier that becomes the impetus for a new blog post.  This week’s phone call asked whether an attorney, representing himself, would be entitled to recover attorney’s fees for the time he spent prosecuting his own claim.  The company said that an attorney, whose fancy car had been damaged, threatened to take his claim to court.  The attorney insinuated that while there he intended to rack up outlandish attorney’s fees and thereby punish the carrier for not paying him the last couple of thousand dollars on his claim.  Apparently, the attorney has not read the case of Sellers v. Dist. Ct., 119 Nev. 256, 71 P.3d 495 (2003).

1504001 Gavel & Money 2 In Sellers, an attorney represented himself in the Justice of the Peace Court.  He was awarded $230.00 for costs of suit and $1,500.00 in attorney’s fees.  There was a challenge to the award of attorney’s fees.  The opinion looked at how other states handle this type of situation.  The Nevada Supreme Court explained:

We join those states that decline to have one rule for attorneys who successfully represent themselves in court and a different a rule for non-attorneys who do the same.  We interpret NRS 69.030 to require that all proper person litigants, whether attorney or non-attorney, be obligated to pay attorney’s fees as a prerequisite for an award of prevailing party attorney’s fees.  This interpretation gives to the Legislature’s clear intent that the prevailing party in Justice’s Court be reimbursed by the losing party for out-of-pocket incurred to prosecute the suit.  To interpret the statute otherwise would require us to redefine what is meant by an attorney fee, which is commonly understood to be the sum paid or charged for legal services.

Because Matthews represented himself and did not pay or incur any obligation to pay attorney’s fees, the Justice’s Court exceeded its jurisdiction by awarding such fees.

It reaching its decision, the Nevada Supreme Court may have wanted to disarm attorneys from making the type of threat that the attorney made in this instance.  Whatever the reason for its decision, it is clear that Sellers prevents an attorney from running up attorney’s fees in a small property damage case based upon his own legal work.  His threats will be empty threats unless and until he hires a lawyer, other than himself, to prosecute that claim.

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About Michael Mills

Mr. Mills practices in the area of civil litigation and appeals, with particular experience in matters involving trucking liability, insurance defense, insurance coverage, premises liability, products liability and defense of personal injury. Mr. Mills is a member of the Trucking Insurance Defense Association, the Defense Research Institute Trucking Committee and the Nevada Motor Transport Association. Mr. Mills is licensed to practice before the Nevada Supreme Court and the Utah Supreme Court. He is also licensed to appear before the United States Supreme Court, the U.S. District Courts for the Districts of Nevada and Utah, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Mr. Mills has created 3 Blogs for the benefit of the insurance industry. He serves as editor and publisher of the Nevada Insurance Law Blog, the Nevada Coverage and Bad Faith Blog and the Nevada Trucking Law Blog.

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