Monday, May 26, 2003

In 13 States, a Push to Limit Lawyers' Fees

Contingency fees are uniformly 33 percent in most places and 40 percent in others. They say that plaintiffs' lawyers charge such fees even when a big settlement is quick, fixed and certain.

The new proposal would limit contingency fees in many cases to 10 percent of the first $100,000 of a settlement, and 5 percent of anything more. Common Good, an advocacy group pushing for the change, has enlisted the help of some lawyers in filing petitions for the change with state supreme courts, bar associations or ethics commissions in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The proposal would require the plaintiff's lawyer to send a letter to the defendant at the start of a case, describing the injury and why the defendant was liable for it. The defendant would not be required to make a settlement offer, and the plaintiff would not have to accept one. But if the defendant did make an offer and the plaintiff accepted it, his lawyer would be entitled to no more than 10 percent of the first $100,000 and 5 percent of anything more.

If plaintiffs' lawyers did not send the letter, their fees would be capped at those levels no matter how long or hard they worked on the case.


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