Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics


David M. Young

Publication Date



The premise of this paper entails the notion that there are too many instances in which plaintiffs' attorneys are making unjustifiable sums in attorneys' fees. Those situations occur most notably in class action litigation. I view this problem as a natural, but unhealthy byproduct, of a system which creates the incentives for litigation in which the attorneys' fees are disproportionate to both the legal work performed and the benefit of the litigation to the plaintiffs or society in general, and a system which possesses inadequate safeguards against excessive fees. The current challenge to the legal system is whether it can responsibly deal with this problem within the current structure of ethics rules and the rules of court procedure, or whether more draconian reforms will be necessary through amendments of the federal rules, the rules of ethics for lawyers, or through legislative restrictions.

I will not spend a great deal of time trying to substantiate the existence of the problem, since it is ground that has been covered extensively by others. Instead, I will discuss why this problem has occurred, despite the existence of some safeguards against it, and propose some thoughts as to how these safeguards can be enhanced. A few examples will hopefully serve to set the stage for a discussion on the need for possible reforms.



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