Sep 14, 2007

Read My Lips: No Contingency Fees

readmylips.jpgI reported on attorney/author Scott Turow’s crusade against the billable hour. But not surprisingly, as Wendy Werner pointed out, billable-hour lawyers don’t earn the record breaking fees of contingency fee attorneys.

What's a contingency fee? Contingency fees (or as some practitioners like to call them, “success based” billing) have their upsideallowing access to the court house for the financially disadvantaged.

What are the conflict of interest disclosure rules for contingency fees? Despite the slew of legal rules and disclaimers regarding contingency agreements, “There is no requirement that the attorney explain fully how his interests might conflict with those of the client.” That’s especially true when it comes to settlement, for example, when the client wants to snare a low settlement and the lawyer wants to take it to trial. Or consider the reverse, when the client wants to take it to court and the lawyer believes that’s a mistake.

What about when government pays contingency fees? State and federal governments often award contingency fees to private practitioners, a practice that's been associated with political favoritism and campaign contributions. Well, at least the federal government got a grip on it; in May 2007, President Bush signed an executive order prohibiting the feds from hiring of attorneys on a contingency basis.

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