“This is one of those cases where people see the verdict and the motion and think about all the money that the plaintiff’s lawyers will make. But the defense lawyers will make as much or more than the plaintiff lawyers while taking no risk. Equally as important, the defense lawyers have been banking their money for years while the plaintiff lawyers have to collect to fill a big hole.” (emphasis added)
In a comment to Katrina plantiffs win a big one, I mentioned Phillip Thomas at the Mississippi Litigation Review blog also had a post on Penthouse Homeowner’s Association v Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London.
Thomas’ blog is one of my daily reads and his most recent post on the case, Winning Plaintiff in Katrina Wind vs. Water Trial Requests $3.5 Million in Attorney’s Fees, Expenses and Interest, provided both the title and introductory quote of this post as well as a link to Plaintiffs’ attorney Don Barrett’s Motion (in Scribd format below with Exhibits added by SLABBED)
Barrett made a strong argument in support of his request for $3.5 million in fees, expenses and interest – and a “must read” IMO for attorneys on both sides of the bar. However, what struck me as even more interesting was this paragraph in Barrett’s Affidavit documenting his personal history of litigation as justification for his $450 hourly rate:
I am presently lead counsel of the Katrina Litigation Group, a consortium of lawyers who represent hundreds of homeowners along the Mississippi Coast who were victimized first by Hurricane Katrina and then by their insurance companies. To date our group has favorably settled over 1,600 homeowners’ claims (including those of former U.S. Senator Trent Lott, U.S. Representative Gene Taylor, and U.S. District Court Judge Louis Guirola) for more than $215 million. We are the only attorneys to have tried Hurricane Katrina cases to successful verdict in both state and federal court (Lisanby v. USAA, in June of 2008), resulting in a verdict and payment.
The “key words” here are “our group” as Barrett and his co-counsel, Mississippi native and Florida attorney Dewitt “Sparky” Lovelace, are the last men standing in what was once the Scruggs Katrina Group, reformed as the Katrina Litigation Group. Jones was voted out, Scruggs was taken out and David Nutt ducked out.
Thomas reviewed Barrett’s list of cost with a lawyer’s eye and estimated “$5–10 million in defense fees and expenses”. Applying that same logic to the $215 million settlement of those 1600 cases, the defense bar raked in half-a-billion or more in those cases alone – and with State Farm cases considered, a cool billion would be low end.
If his writing skills are any indication of his legal skills, Phillip Thomas “has the makings” of an excellent judge, one with the capacity to see both sides of the bar. Commenting on another case, he wrote, ‘this does provide a good example of a major difference between the plaintiff side and defense side of a case”:
On the plaintiff side, when a lawyer bills by the hour the fees can exceed the recovery. There is no danger of that on the defense side. That makes it a lot easier to justify high attorney’s fees in a defense case.
Hourly rate defense lawyers sometimes have trouble managing the economics of a plaintiff case. I can think of several examples where defense firm lawyers told me about their fun plaintiff case. When I inquired about the value of the claim, it sounded like it didn’t justify the amount of time being put into the case. It sounded like they brought the defense lawyer “leave no stone unturned” mentality to a plaintiff case.
But you can’t do that on the plaintiff side. On the plaintiff side, you have to manage your case better than you do on the defense side. You have to always keep the economics of the case in mind. Often, that means that you have to tell the client that the economics don’t justify filing the case.
On the defense side, it’s more about justifying each individual billing entry than justifying the entire defense costs. And the defense lawyer can always blame the high bills on the plaintiff’s lawyer or the case in general.
The defense lawyer can run up $500,000 in fees and tell the client it’s a victory when the case settles for $250,000. They neglect to tell the client that they could have settled for the same $250,000 back when there had only been $10,000 in fees incurred in the case…
SLABBED reports, you decide.
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