Hodges v. Reasonover: The Louisiana Supreme Court Balances Policy Goals of Binding Arbitration and Attorney- Client Fiduciary Duty

The plaintiff, Jacqueline Hodges, retained the defendant, Kirk Reasonover of the law firm Reasonover & Olinde, LLC, as counsel to represent her interests in a multimillion dollar business dispute—a decision she would later come to regret.[1. Hodges v. Reasonover, 2012-0043, p. 2 (La. 7/2/12); 103 So. 3d 1069, 1071.]  Prior to commencing their relationship, Hodges signed a retainer agreement with Reasonover & Olinde that included a binding arbitration clause.[2. Id.]  The arbitration clause mandated that the parties bring any dispute arising between them to the American Arbitration Association (AAA).[3. Id.  The AAA imposes filing fees on a sliding scale, in which a plaintiff’s costs are proportionate to the damages sought.  Hodges alleged that arbitration would cost her $18,800 because she claimed damages totaling $70 million.  Id. at p. 7 n.1; 103 So. 3d at 1074 n.1.]  The parties kept the arbitration clause intact despite later renegotiating the terms of their fee agreement.[4. Id. at p. 3; 103 So. 3d at 1072.  The revised fee agreement set fees on a contingency basis.  Id.]  The revised fee agreement stated that Hodges should seek independent counsel before signing because her interests were adverse to the interests of the firm.[5. Id.]  However, Hodges proceeded to sign the revised agreement, without consulting independent counsel.[6. Id.]  Hodges sued Reasonover & Olinde alleging legal malprac-tice after her complaint in the underlying matter was dismissed on a motion for summary judgment.[7. Id.] Defendants filed declinatory exceptions in response to Hodges’s suit in Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, citing the binding arbitration clause as grounds for challenging venue and subject matter jurisdiction.[8. Id.]  The district court found the arbitration clause void and refused the defendants’ exceptions, and the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit denied supervisory writ.[9. Id. at pp. 3-4; 103 So. 3d at 1072.]  The Louisiana Supreme Court granted writs to review the case.[10. Id. at p. 4; 103 So. 3d at 1072.]  The Louisiana Supreme Court held that courts may enforce mandatory arbitration clauses in attorney-client agreements when they are fair and reasonable, but the firm’s arbitration clause was unenforceable because the defendants did not make the specific disclosures about the effects of arbitration that were necessary for Hodges to consent.  Hodges v. Reasonover, 2012-0043, p. 14 (La. 7/2/12); 103 So. 3d 1069, 1078.