May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
by Leonard Rivkin
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Quote of the Day - People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up. - Ogden Nash
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Is It Worth It?

Here's a whopper: the Plaintiff's fee award in the (don't click on this link yet) Exxon Valdez case. But, before I give you the number, let me try something first.

Sure, you've got the setup - it's a large number. Sure, you can click on the link and cheat. But, stick with me please. This is a bit of an experiment. You have the opportunity to participate. Read these facts first, and then decide what kind of an award is justified. Then, after you've read all the facts, think if knowing the number first would have made you think differently.

If so, then think of that when you hear lawyer jokes.

Here, I'm going to quote directly from the article. It's talking about the effort put in to defend against Exxon. "Over 15 years, at least 2,348 plaintiffs lawyers and paralegals clocked more than 1.2 million hours on the case, according to the fee application. ... Out-of-pocket costs topped $30 million. The fee request alone filled 200 binders." The Plaintiff's lawyers are requesting a 22% contingency fee. Most lawyers have a 33% fee, and some go as high as 50%.

One of the plaintiffs lawyers, who has spent most of the last 15 years on the Valdez case, commented that "the long wait for payment has been 'a big burden' for his firm." According to the article, "the case has exacted a heavy personal toll, too. Of the 15 ... lawyers who started on this case with him, only one is in the same marriage or personal relationship: 'It's created a huge amount of personal turmoil.'"

Also according to the article, "In making the award, federal district court judge H. Russel Holland granted the plaintiffs request for a 22.4 percent contingency fee. 'Exxon [Mobil Corporation] put up an unflagging, spare-no-expense defense that might have been overwhelming but for the skill and resources of class counsel,'" the judge wrote.

OK, so you've lost your family, spent $30 million of your own money in costs, been worked to death for 15 years by the other side, and you haven't been paid yet. Plus, you earned a $5 billion jury verdict for the greatest environmental catastrophe of our time.

We're not done yet. Despite all this work, and the Judge's compliments, you may not get the fee that he awarded, still. Plus, if you do, it's going to get split 60 ways among the various Plaintiff's law firms.

How much did the lawyers get? $1.3 billion, or more accurately, $1,293,373,000, which according to the article, "appears to be the largest fee ever approved by a court."

Is it fair?

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 at 11:10 Comments (0)


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