Center for America

Speaker's Resource: 5. Plaintiffs Bar, p 2



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Key Reference Citations (KRC)


What’s In It for Them: Contingent Fees, continued

  • “Regardless of one’s view of the suits, the mega-fees from the 1998 tobacco settlement were nothing but egregious. Some 300 lawyers from 86 firms will pocket as much as $30 billion over the next 25 years even though, for many of them, the suits posed minimal risk and demanded little effort.”  That staggering sum comes right out of taxpayers’ pockets – enough to hire 750,000 teachers. (KRC: Manhattan Institute, Trial Lawyers,  Inc., see footnote 26:  Robert A. Levy, "The Great Tobacco Robbery: Lawyers Grab Billions", Mar. 6, 1999, (citing Robert A. Levy, "The Great Tobacco Robbery", Legal Times, Feb. 1, 1999, p. 27))

  • The advent of non-monetary relief, e.g., coupon settlements or enhanced disclosure, has lead to incongruous results: the injured parties receive something of insignificant or no value, while plaintiffs’ attorneys walk off with millions. For example, in 1999 plaintiffs in a class action received no payouts; the defendant, agreed to make fuller disclosures and the plaintiffs’ attorneys received $7.5 million.  (KRC: From Olson, The Rule of Lawyers, p. 88)

  • "[I]n mass tort and class action claims, plaintiffs’ awards are typically divided among so many individuals that the only people who meaningfully profit are the plaintiffs’ lawyers themselves."  (KRC: Manhattan Institute, Trial Lawyers, Inc., p. 7)

  • 19% of all tort costs – estimated to be approximately $200 billion in 2003 – go to plaintiffs’ attorneys. (KRC: Manhattan Institute, Trial Lawyers, Inc., p. 2)

  • Because so many lawyers are getting rich off lawsuits, only 46 cents out of every dollar spent on our tort system goes to plaintiffs. (CFA, Fast Facts on the Litigation Lottery, 2005, p. 1)

  • “Lawyers have erected toll booths across the courthouse steps, exacting not a fee for passage but a percentage of all business transactions upon traversal. Contingent fee setting today operates in a milieu substantially devoid of fiduciary oversight. Overcharging clients is routine and typically unquestioned, especially when the client is unaware of the degree to which it has occurred.” So pervasive are these abuses that one may legitimately describe the current regulatory scheme as “rotten.”  (KRC: Hantler, "Seven Myths ...", as quoting Lester Brickman, "Contingent Fees Without Contingencies: Hamlet Without the Prince of Denmark?" 37 UCLA L. Rev. 29, 1998)


Examples of Outrageous Fees

  • In Texas, two attorneys recovered $6 million in a divorce action – the equivalent of a fee of $42,379 per hour for one of the attorneys and $8,079 per hour for the other.   (KRC: Hantler, "Seven Myths",, p. 20 as quoting Margaret Cronin Fisk, "Two Texas Lawyers Hit with $6.3M Overcharging Verdict", National Law Journal, Dec. 6, 1999 at A11)

  • Attorney fees of $250 to $350 million were awarded in one asbestos case, resulting in effective hourly fees averaging $2,500 to $5,000 and provoking a federal judge to label these fees as “grossly excessive.”  (KRC: Hantler, "Seven Myths", p. 20 as quoting In re: Joint Eastern and Southern Dist. Asbestos Litig. (Johns-Mansville Trust Reorganization), 129 B.R. 710, 863 (E.D. & S.D.N.Y. 1991) (Weinstein, J.), vacated, 982 F. 2d 721 (2d Cir. 1992), op. modified on reh'g, 993 F 2d 7 (2d Cir. 1993))

  • In one airline accident case in which there was no issue of liability, a one third contingency fee yielded an attorney $383,244 for only 25 to 35 hours of work, a rate of $10,000 to $15,000 an hour.  (KRC: Hantler, "Seven Myths", p. 20 as quoting Warden, "Should A Lawyer Make $10,000 an Hour?", Student Law, Apr. 1981, at 21-23.)

  • The Florida attorney teams who worked in the universal tobacco settlement for the state received $3.4 billion, or $233 million per attorney.  That’s the equivalent of $7,716 per hour per attorney, assuming each attorney worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week for three and a half years.  (KRC: Manhattan Institute, Trial Lawyers,  Inc., p. 6)

  • A single law firm, headed by an attorney who has been characterized in some circles as “the president of the tobacco branch of the lawsuit industry, received $1.4 billion in the tobacco settlement.  (KRC: Manhattan Institute, Trial Lawyers,  Inc., p. 6)


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