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What’s 1/3 of 1,000?

1000.jpgWell this right here is the 1,000th post on the QuizLaw blog!

…kinda sorta.

Those readers who have been with us for a while will recall that we had a little problem with the Department of Homeland Security last spring. While we were able to recover some of our prior posts, a good number were sadly lost for all time. So we don’t really know the anniversary of when we first posted, nor do we have an exact count of the number of posts we’ve actually done. But going by the posts currently on our blog, including the pre-DHS posts we were able to scrounge up, this right here is number 1,000.

Originally, I was going to celebrate the big triple-zero by sharing some wonderfully hilarious/stupid legal story. But then I noticed a comment to one of Tuesday’s entries, and I decided to get serious-like instead.

On Tuesday, I talked about those shady phen-fen attorneys who decided to take more than their share in legal fees. A commentor asked:

Wait, wait. You’re telling me you think those lawyers were entitled to a scant 22,333,333.33 each?!
Is there any kind of fund set up where I can donate money to impoverished lawyers?

Well, Ben, here’s the thing. It’s not really a question of whether those lawyers were, or whether any lawyers are, impoverished. Instead, it’s a question of whether they were entitled to $23.3 million each. And before they turned out to be thieving scumbags, I would have said “absolutely.”

As I mentioned in the original post, one-third of any settlement/award is the customary legal fee in contingency cases. And it is deserved. You have to remember that these guys took all the risk in this case. Their clients didn’t have to pay them a dime – the attorneys paid for everything out of their own pocket and, trust me, litigation ain’t cheap. Did they spend $67 million litigating the case? Probably not.

But here, too, you must remember that plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t win every contingency case they take. So if we made their fee some smaller percentage (say 10%), or an “actual cost” type fee, it’s suddenly not worth the risk for plaintiffs’ lawyers to ever take contingency cases.

But lawyers are scum, right, so who cares?

Well most stories we see about plaintiffs lawyers (or even about lawyers in general) tend to be negative - and we here at QuizLaw are perpetrators of this as well (the bad stories are just more fun!). But complain about the system though we all might, lawyers are an important part of the process, and those plaintiffs’ lawyers willing to work on contingency are an integral part of the system.

…this soapbox was built on the 999 preceding QuizLaw entries. Thank you.

| Comments (3)


Well said! A lot of the time you have to remember that plaintiff's lawyers have to absorb all the risk with regard to hiring experts, providing witnesses, investigating claims, and if the client does something stupid (like claiming disability while working out like a fiend or getting hooked on prescription pills) it can hurt the hell out the case. And when the client doesn't get what they think they are entitled to, who do you think they blame? And yet, meanwhile the insurance companies are getting fat off of premiums being paid by insureds who they may never have to cover, and low balling people who are genuinely hurt by their insured's actions.

Oh, I have to disagree here.

Perhaps in this case the attorneys may have deserved their takings, although 23 mil a piece sounds awfully high. I really don't know enough about their expenses to answer.

But what about the more common contingency cases? Disability claims? Medical malpractice? Workers comp cases etc.

My mothers attorney did just about nothing for her workers comp case. 2 tons of lumber was "accidentall" knocked over on her by my father while at work (they work as carpenters together). Her leg was broken and it won't ever heal completely.

Often people in these types of situations can't come up with the money to retain a lawyer, no matter how good their cases are. This was my mothers situation. I was already paying her other attorney, the private investigators, and supporting her financially during a very nasty divorce and I couldn't take on any further financial burden.

I see lawyers brag about these open-shut contingency cases all the time, even my ex who's an attorney. Yes there is risk, and yes you can get very risky clients and cases but attorneys don't have to take all of those cases either. Why pull out the "30% is standard" clause and screw poor clients with open-and-shut cases out of their winnings? You are saying that it's justified to cover other 'bad' cases by pushing the cost onto those 'easy' cases?

I am no stranger to lawsuits and the costs. I promise you he didn't earn his take, not even close.


It's not a question of whether the attorney earns his take in each and every case. It's a societal pact – we, as a society, agree to pay these attorneys a 1/3 contingency fee, regardless of the type of case they take. In exchange, these attorneys agree to not simply take the "open-shut" cases you talk about, but to also take the ones with great risk, where they may spend a significant amount of money with no return.

I'm not trying to defend your attorney, or to suggest that he “earned” the fee he eventually obtained in your particular case. But on the whole, it's a necessary nature of the business. If the attorney took a lesser fee in your “open-shut” case, there’s less there to cover him in a more risky case, and he might not therefore take that higher-risk case.