Have you ever been "represented" (I use that term loosely) by some unknown group of attorneys in class action only to receive some coupons of questionable value while the attorneys receive millions of dollars? I have, at least twice. In one instance, we received coupons good for substantial savings at a nightclub we were planning to patronize anyway. But in another that I vaguely remember we received the offer of coupons worth only a few dollars, and the cost of collecting them and using them would have exceeded their value.
I once had a colleague on the law faculty who said, "What we need to do is find a class and launch a massive class action suit.... That's where the real money is!"
Finally, finally, someone is taking on these leeches. Ted Frank has founded the Center for Class Action Fairness. His typical goal is to intercede in a class action suit on behalf of the class of plaintiffs, arguing that they should receive more and the attorneys for the class should receive less. Here is one good example:
We had objected to the Lonardo v. Travelers settlement for its disproportionate ratio of class benefits to attorneys' fees. On the eve of the fairness hearing, the parties modified the settlement so that class members who filed claims would get an additional $2 million, all of which would come out of the requested attorneys' fee—no small potatoes when only $2.8 million in claims were made. Still, we're talking about a settlement where the class gets $4.8 million and the attorneys get $4.6 million, so we renewed our objection today..
But Ted Frank's work is often more subtle than just "who gets what share of the proceeds?" He often points out that attorneys form classes solely (or primarily?) to extract fees from defendants, who are happy to settle with plaintiffs' attorneys rather than fight the case in court. The picture he paints all-too-frequently involves an unholy implicit conspiracy between plaintiffs' attorneys and defendants' attorneys to enrich the former at the expense, primarily of the plaintiffs themselves, but almost in conspiracy against the defendants.
Frank's goal is to rectify this situation. He intervenes in class action suits on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants, attempting to break down that unholy conspiracy.
I have "known" Ted for nearly two decades. I've never met him, but we've corresponded infrequently from the time he was a law student at The University of Chicago. He has given up many very lucrative possibilities in private practice to form the Center for Class Action Fairness.
And judging from his successes, he almost surely has major
leeches law firms that typically have thrived on these class action suits on the defensive.