If two’s a coincidence and three’s a trend, what would you call six headlines in one week?
In just the past couple weeks, there have been six instances in which plaintiffs’ lawyers have gotten caught making excessive fee requests, gaming the system for their own benefit, or fighting amongst each other over lawsuit spoils. Here’s a quick reference list:
1. “Lawyers to get 75 percent of $9.8 million whitleblower suit against K-Mart; Tillery's take - $5.7 million,” Madison-St. Clair Record, April 24, 2018
2. “3 Firms To Pay $800K More Amid Billable Hour Probe,” Law360, April 24, 2018
3. “Lawyers in GMO Corn Cases Accused of Unfair Fee Scheme,” Courthouse News Service, April 25, 2018
4. “Special Master Finds Legal Fee Bid Excessive in Anthem Data Breach Case,” The Recorder, April 25, 2018
5. “In proposed Monitronics $28 Million TCPA settlement, attorneys would pocket $9.3M and class members $38,” Legal Newsline, April 26, 2018
6. “Dispute over asbestos lawsuit fees to continue; Calif. lawyer is suing Paul Napoli and his former partner,” Legal Newsline, April 30, 2018
The answer seems to be simple: six stories in a few days is a sign that some in the plaintiffs’ bar community continue to game the system for their own benefit, not for the benefit of their clients.
Since last April 24, we learned that plaintiffs’ lawyers, according to the third article, “orchestrated a scheme” to trick class members into giving more away in fees, sued other lawyers for taking their fees, been forced to cover nearly $4 million for an investigation into overbilling, had to be told by an independent special master that they’re asking for too much, and taken millions from settlements while leaving class members and their clients with almost nothing.
This, of course, does not include an earlier major attorneys’ fees development from February, when the U.S. Department of Justice signaled it was taking a heightened interest in class action settlements with ridiculous fee requests.
The headlines from the past few weeks represent a broader problem with the current civil justice system. So many lawsuits are filed with an eye toward massive paydays rather than justice.
This problem spreads beyond excessive requests or innovative ways to drive up fees. We also learned recently that bigtime plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Lanier made “unequivocally deceptive” statements when he told a jury that he didn’t pay witnesses for testimony. He told the court that the $65,000 that went to two of his witnesses was only a “thank you.”
If these cases are evidence of a problem within our justice system, then perhaps the solution is now before Congress.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, which would, among other reforms, stop lawyers from taking money before class members, require lawyers to report how the money was being distributed, and even cap how much lawyers can take from settlements or judgments. While this would only apply to class action and multi-district litigation, it’s certainly a step toward a more reasonable litigation system.
Until Congress acts, we’ll continue to see more and more of these types of headlines.