Lawyers Rethink Their Pay
The American Bar Association is seriously considering new pay rules that could discourage litigation ranging from sexual harassment to product liability. At issue: contingency fees, the common form of compensation in which lawyers get paid only if they win a case--and then they receive a percentage of the final payout. Critics argue that the system allows abuses such as the recent settlement with the Blockbuster video chain over late fees, in which plaintiffs received coupons for rentals while their attorneys pocketed more than $9 million. "We want to put to bed whether these fees are good or bad," says Steve Lesser, who is chairing an ABA task force on the issue. But some reformers doubt that the ABA can be unbiased. Even the ABA admits that it became interested in reform only after Common Good, a Washington, D.C., tort-reform group, filed petitions in 12 states seeking to reduce contingency fees in cases that are settled very early. "The likelihood that the ABA will say anything favorable to tort reform," says Lester Brickman, a Cardozo School of Law professor and a co-author of the Common Good proposal, "is about the same as the Democratic candidates concluding that going into Iraq was both good policy and justified."