The Value of Legal Counsel

A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals reinforces why it's crucial to obtain qualified counsel when involved in litigation, whether as a plaintiff or a defendant. In Russell Hippe, Jr. v. Miller & Martin, PLLC, Mr. Hippe, a licensed attorney and former partner at Miller & Martin, sued his former firm for breach of contract and an entitlement to retirement benefits. Unfortunately for Mr. Hippe, he chose to represent himself and did not hire an attorney to assist him. Further compounding the problem, Mr. Hippe originally sued his former firm in 2009; however, that suit was dismissed by the Court as it was filed beyond the statute of limitations. Mr. Hippe, undeterred, sued his former firm again in 2014 for a breach of the same contract, five years after his first suit. 

The second time around was as unsuccessful as the first. The trial court again dismissed the lawsuit, finding that it was barred by the doctrine of res judicata - a judicial rule which essentially prevents a party a second bite of the same apple after a final judgment is rendered. Mr. Hippe appealed, only to find the Court of Appeals affirm the trial court, but, more problematic for him, also found the appeal frivolous. The Court of Appeals then ordered Mr. Hippe to pay his former firm's legal fees, breaking from the traditional "American Rule" that each party pays its own legal fees. The Court of Appeals observed, "This appeal is devoid of merit and had no reasonable chance of success."

One can read this case and wonder what the outcome would have been had Mr. Hippe engaged outside, unbiased counsel to represent him.