Almost Larceny

Conduct by some lawyers helps me understand why public opinion often views attorneys as greedy. Many of the lawyers who practice personal injury law are at the top of the list of those responsible for creating the "greedy lawyer" impression. You know the mantra- "We don't get paid unless you recover". If their money grubbing TV and phone book ads weren't bad enough, they go out of their way to further this bad image by taking a fee equal to 1/3 of the recovery in cases where the attorney has done little or no work.

The so-called "standard" attorney contingency fee on personal injury cases (the attorney gets paid 1/3 of the amount reached by settlement or jury verdict) in most instances is fair to both the client and the lawyer. This is true when the work involved justifies the dollars received by the attorney for the work performed. Further, it is perfectly reasonable for an attorney to expect to be compensated for the risk of non-payment that the attorney takes on in a contingency fee case. But oftentimes this "standard" fee is grossly unfair to the client, and it is understandable that the public thinks the lot of lawyers are greedy as a result.

I recently saw a perfect example of this when I met a young man who was injured in a car accident. His case was a "slam dunk", yet I was flabbergasted when I learned from the parents of the young man that two other attorneys agreed to take the case, but only if they received 1/3 of the recovery, or $100,000! Settlement of children's claims does require court approval and there was a bit of other work involved on that case. However, no attorney on the case would have had more than fifteen or twenty hours of work in the file, and to try and get a fee of $100,000 under such circumstances is as close to larceny as you can get.

This young man's story is not the first time I have seen this kind of conduct by a lawyer. I then thought "Why not do something about it?" Well I have, and what I have done I have coined "Finally Fair Fees™". Instead of charging a "standard" 1/3 contingency fee in every case, I have developed a sliding fee scale where the percentage paid to the attorney on the case is more realistically tied to the work involved. This can be as little as 15% of the amount recovered if the case is resolved without starting a lawsuit; 20% if the case is resolved after suit but before the part of the case known as "disclosure" begins; 25% if the case is resolved after disclosure begins but before depositions are held, and 33.33% if the case is resolved any time after depositions occur up to and including the trial.

And, in case you're wondering, I would never take even 15% on a case like that of the young man hurt in the car crash. Under such circumstances the lawyer should be paid on an hourly rate. What do you think?

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