22 NYCRR 1215 is a section of the law that governs attorney fees and engagement letters or retainer agreements.  Until recently, courts have had differeing interpretations of the penalty when an attorney seeks fees but has no retainer agreement or engagement letter.

The cases were decided in three different ways:  the first allowed the attorrney fees determined in quantum meruit, the second was that the attorney could keep collected fees but no future fees, and the third was to allow no fees at all.

Along came the case of Rubenstein v. Ganea held:

"We find that a strict rule prohibiting the recovery of counsel fees for an attorney’s noncompliance with 22 NYCRR 1215.1 is not appropriate and could create unfair windfalls for clients, particularly where clients know that the legal services they receive are not pro bono and where the failure to comply with the rule is not willful (see Matter of Feroleto, supra at 684). Our holding would be different were this matter a matrimonial action governed by the more stringent disciplinary requirements of 22 NYCRR 1400.3 and Code of Professional Responsibility DR 2-106 (c) (2). Here, Ganea concedes in her reply brief that "she did not think all legal services received would be free." Rubenstein’s failure to comply with 22 NYCRR 1215.1 was unintentional, no doubt attributed to the promulgation of the rule only seven weeks prior to his retention. Accordingly, the{**41 AD3d at 64} Supreme Court correctly held that Rubenstein could seek recovery of attorneys’ fees upon the theory of quantum meruit.[FN7]"

Now, the case of Mallin v. Nash in New York County adopts the Second Department’s holding:

"Public policy dictates that courts pay particular attention to fee arrangements between attorneys and their clients, as it is important that a fee contract be fair, reasonable, and fully known and understood by the client (see Jacobson v Sassower, 66 NY2d 991, 993, 499 NYS2d 381, 489 NE2d 1283 [1985]; Shaw v Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., 68 NY2d 172, 176, 507 NYS2d 610, 499 NE2d 864 [1986]; Matter of Bizar & Martin v U.S. Ice Cream Corp., 228 AD2d 588, 644 NYS2d 753 [2d Dept 1996]). If the terms of a retainer agreement are not established, or if a client discharges an attorney without cause, the attorney may recover only in quantum meruit to the extent that the fair and reasonable value of legal services can be established (see Matter of Cohen v Grainger, Tesoriero & Bell, 81 NY2d 655, 658, 602 NYS2d 788, 622 NE2d 288 [1983]; Campagnola v Mulholland, Minion & Roe, 76 NY2d 38, 43, 556 NYS2d 239, 555 NE2d 611 [1990]; Matter of Schanzer, 7 AD2d 275, 182 NYS2d 475 [1st Dept 1959], affd 8 NY2d 972, 204 NYS2d 349, 169 NE2d 11 [1960]).

 In Mallin, the attorney was awarded no fees under quantum meruit.