I just love hindsight. In hindsight, everything is so clear. Things that look tenuous on the front end are no risk easy “layups” in the rear view mirror. You may wonder what I am talking about.
I am talking about one of my favorite subjects, the right to Attorney’s fees, which is how I support my family and provide food, shelter and education for my children. Recently, I came across an article on Boston.com by Sacha Pfeiffer regarding "blowing the whistle on lawyer’s fees".
Contingency fees are the single greatest invention to permit the common man access to fight big corporations and government intrusion. It is simply bad public policy for the court to intervene in a contract between an employee and the employer.
In a typical Qui Tam case the relator goes to the attorney's office with a claim about how their employer is defrauding the Federal government (or State Government). Sometimes it involves an obscure contract that affects about .001% of the general population. The Relator wants the attorney to listen to their story and investigate their claims. In most Qui Tam cases, the attorney needs to do extensive research in the case, to determine if the fraud claim can be legally supported. If the attorney determines there is sufficient evidence to support this potential claim, the attorney must finance the claim with personal money and time. Once the litigation process has started, time and hours on the case usually add up. Any case costs incurred are paid by the attorney personally.
Isn't it easier to just sell your soul to the big corporate devil? Private Industry pays white shoe (corporate) lawyers very well. They give them good benefits; sometimes 12 weeks paid vacation, stock options and generous retirement plans. Usually they work 9 to 5. All with the guarantee that on Friday the paycheck is in the bank. I have a good buddy that has been with Lucent Technology for years. He lives a good life. Lucent treats him well.
So, why do Plaintiff Attorneys, in the areas of Qui Tam, Employment Attorneys, and Personal Injury, Attorneys practice law? The reason is two fold. First, most love the idea of prosecuting cases. They get significant internal gratification knowing they are making the bad guys pay up. Second, and equally important, it is lucrative. America awards risk and hard work. When an attorney takes personal resources, time and money, and invests in a case, the attorney deserves to be paid exactly what the employer (client) agreed to pay him. This is especially true if the employer (client) is making a large amount of money as well as a result of the attorney’s efforts.
In the Boston.com article, the Relator's attorney took the risks and did the work and was not paid for any of it. In the end the Relator got what they wanted and didn't complain. However, someone did: the corporate lawyers are complaining about the Qui Tam attorneys fees. Why?
Big corporate industry is constantly working to prejudice the average American against Plaintiff's attorneys. They would love to take away the contingency fee all together. Big corporate industry can afford to hire a legion of $500 per hour lawyers to paper and destroy the common man in court. Ask yourself, honestly, if you had to bring a lawsuit and you had to hire an attorney, how much could you really fight? For 99% of the American public the answer is almost ZERO. If I personally worked on an hourly basis I would need to charge a $25,000 retainer just to get started. I would then bill my clients at the end of every month. Each month's bill would be about $10,000 just to keep the litigation going. The basic trial runs a minimum of $100,000.00 plus costs. Now, who has money for that? Any major corporation can pay that litigation bill for several cases all day long. This is pocket change for them. Not even a concern. But for the average American, it would wipe them out. Tap their life savings. Extinguish the equity in their homes and deplete any investments they have saved over the years. Then, what happens if they lose the case? They would lose everything. So, you know what? They choose not to do anything right at the beginning and the big corporate body wins every time. So, yes, they are intentionally trying to destroy the contingency fee in America and with it they will destroy your access to the court system and your right to be protected from corporate abuse.
Now, since I always go back to the political, it is against my Republican nature to have government interfere with a contract between two entities which does not breach or harm the moral fiber of our social compact. A few years ago in Florida the medical industry tried to limit attorney fees in medical malpractice cases to 10%. I was in line waiting to vote against that amendment and I overheard a two people talking behind me. They were talking about how good it was for the people in the State to have this amendment because it would save them so much money. One guy mentioned he was a local real estate salesperson, so I politely mentioned that if this amendment passed and attorneys had their fees limited then their was a political movement that was going to try and limit real estate sales commissions to 2% instead of the typical 6 or 7% they now put in most contracts. The look of astonishment on his face was fantastic. He literally did not know what to say except how unfair it would be. He mentioned that real estate salespeople put out money to advertise the house and how if the commission are only 2% how can they afford to do any advertising? I agreed completely and mentioned that medical malpractice attorneys routinely put up over $100,000.00 to try medical malpractice cases and that doctors win 80% of those trials, so how can the attorney afford to help people if when they win they can't recoup their lost money?
All the big cases, the million dollar monsters, look easy from the rear view mirror. But when you are sitting in your office and you are looking at spending 3 years and $100,000 of your money on a case that doesn't look like a slam dunk, it is a bit harder to read the tea leaves.
Look at the whole picture. Contingency fees help the average person. Don't let a corporate propaganda lawsuit misinform you about what is best for you and for most Americans.