The Houston First Court of Appeals has held that a voidable attorney-client retainer agreement may not be used as a basis upon which to establish personal jurisdiction in a suit by the attorney against the client on the agreement. In Cobb v. Sterm, Miller and Higdon, Cobb, a Louisiana resident, was injured in Louisiana while working on an anchor boat in Lousiana for his Lousiana employer. The law firm went to Louisiana to solicit Cobb as a client. Two months later, one of the law firm’s representatives drove Cobb to Houston where he signed an engagement agreement providing for the application of Texas law. A few weeks later, Cobb terminated the law firm and three days after that, he settled his claims with his employer and went back to work.
The law firm brought suit in Texas against Cobb to recover its expenses and Cobb filed a special appearance. The trial court [11th Judicial District] initially sustained Cobb’s special appearance, but on rehearing, the court [151st Judicial District] granted the law firm’s new trial. Cobb filed an interlocutory appeal.
The court of appeals concludes that Cobb had insufficient contacts to establish general jurisdiction. In examining specific jurisdiction, the court of appeals reasons that the engagement agreement violates the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct’s prohibition against in-person contact to seek professional employment. Because the agreement violates the disciplinary rules, it is voidable. The Court observes that Cobb voided the agreement by his termination of the law firm. The court concludes that it would be against public policy for a Texas court to allow enforcement of an agreement obtained in violation of the disciplinary rules for attorneys and holds that the trial court erred in determining that it could exercise specific jurisdiction over Cobb. The court’s opinion may be found at this link.
One question this opinion raises for me is whether the court of appeals is in effect exercising jurisdiction by its adjudication of the engagement agreement as violative of the Texas Disciplinary Rules (based upon the separate, prior act of solicitation) and holding that its enforcement would violate Texas public policy.