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Aligning the Interests of Lawyers and Clients

Author

Listed:
  • A. Mitchell Polinsky
  • Daniel L. Rubinfeld

Abstract

The potential conflict of interest between lawyers and clients is well known. If a lawyer is paid for his time regardless of the outcome of the case, the lawyer may wish to bring the case even when it is not in the best interest of the client, may spend more hours working on the case than the client would want, and may reject a settlement when the client would be better off if it were accepted. Alternatively, if the lawyer is compensated according to the conventional contingent fee arrangement--under which he is paid a fraction of any trial award or settlement but bears all of the cost of litigation--the lawyer may have an insufficient incentive to bring the case, may spend too little time working on it if it is brought, and may encourage a settlement when the client would be better off going to trial. In this article we propose a method of compensating lawyers that overcomes the conflict of interest between the lawyer and the client. Our system is a variation of the conventional contingent fee system, but, in contrast to that system, we would have the lawyer bear only a fraction of the cost of litigation--the same fraction that the lawyer obtains of the award or settlement. We demonstrate that when the fraction of the cost that the lawyer bears equals the fraction of the award or settlement that he obtains, he will have an incentive to do exactly what a knowledgeable client would want him to do with respect to accepting the case, spending time on the case, and settling the case. Under our modified contingent fee system, a third party would compensate the lawyer for a certain fraction of his costs, in return for which the lawyer would pay that party an up-front fee. In this way, the client would not bear any costs, even if the case were lost, just as under the conventional contingent fee system. Copyright 2003, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • A. Mitchell Polinsky & Daniel L. Rubinfeld, 2003. "Aligning the Interests of Lawyers and Clients," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 165-188.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:5:y:2003:i:1:p:165-188
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dana, James D, Jr & Spier, Kathryn E, 1993. "Expertise and Contingent Fees: The Role of Asymmetric Information in Attorney Compensation," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(2), pages 349-367, October.
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    6. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Rubinfeld, Daniel L., 2002. "A note on settlements under the contingent fee method of compensating lawyers," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 217-225, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Liqun Liu & Andrew Rettenmaier & Thomas Saving, 2009. "Conditional payments and self-protection," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 38(2), pages 159-172, April.
    2. Henderson, James & Leleux, Benoit & White, Ian, 2006. "Service-for-equity arrangements: Untangling motives and conflicts," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 21(6), pages 886-909, November.
    3. Cotten, Stephen J. & Santore, Rudy, 2012. "Contingent fee caps, screening, and the quality of legal services," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 317-328.
    4. Emons, Winand & Fluet, Claude, 2016. "Why plaintiffs’ attorneys use contingent and defense attorneys fixed fee contracts," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 16-23.
    5. Adler, Barry E., 2014. "Lawyers as lawmakers, privilege, and agency," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(S), pages 144-149.
    6. Kyung Hwan Baik & In-Gyu Kim, 2007. "Strategic Decisions On Lawyers' Compensation In Civil Disputes," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(4), pages 854-863, October.
    7. Roland Kirstein & Neil Rickman, 2004. ""Third Party Contingency" Contracts in Settlement and Litigation," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, pages 555-555.
    8. Winand Emons & Nuno Garoupa, 2004. "The Economics of US-style Contingent Fees and UK-style Conditional Fees," Diskussionsschriften dp0407, Universitaet Bern, Departement Volkswirtschaft.
    9. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Rubinfeld, Daniel L., 2002. "A note on settlements under the contingent fee method of compensating lawyers," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 217-225, August.
    10. Roland Kirstein & Robert Cooter, "undated". "Anti-Sharing," German Working Papers in Law and Economics 2005-1-1131, Berkeley Electronic Press.
    11. Florian Baumann & Tim Friehe, 2012. "Contingent fees meet the British rule: an exploratory study," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 150(3), pages 499-510, March.
    12. Baumann, Florian & Friehe, Tim, 2014. "On discovery, restricting lawyers, and the settlement rate," DICE Discussion Papers 155, University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE).
    13. At, Christian & Gabuthy, Yannick, 2015. "Moral hazard and agency relationship in sequential litigation," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 86-90.
    14. Andrew F. Daughety & Reinganum F. Reinganum, 2014. "Settlement and Trial: Selected Analyses of the Bargaining Environment," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 14-00005, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    15. Michael, Bryane & Falzon, Joseph & Shamdasani, Ajay, 2015. "A Theory of Financial Services Competition, Compliance and Regulation," EconStor Preprints 107400, ZBW - German National Library of Economics.
    16. Winand Emons, 2007. "Conditional versus contingent fees," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 59(1), pages 89-101, January.
    17. Yannick Gabuthy & Eve-Angéline Lambert, 2013. "Freedom to bargain and disputes’ resolution," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 373-388, October.
    18. Amanda Carmignani & Silvia Giacomelli, 2010. "Too many lawyers? Litigation in Italian civil courts," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 745, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    19. Baik, Kyung Hwan & Kim, In-Gyu, 2007. "Contingent fees versus legal expenses insurance," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 351-361, September.
    20. Andrew F. Daughtey & Jennifer F. Reinganum, 2010. "Clients, Lawyers, Second Opinions, and Agency," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 1009, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    21. Andrew F. Daughety & Jennifer F. Reinganum, 2011. "Search, Bargaining, And Agency in the Market for Legal Services," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 1106, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    22. Friehe, Tim, 2010. "Contingent fees and legal expenses insurance: Comparison for varying defendant fault," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 283-290, December.
    23. Nuno Garoupa & Fernando Gómez, 2002. "Cashing by the hour: Why large law firms prefer hourly fees over contingent fees," Economics Working Papers 639, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    24. Qiao, Yue, 2013. "Legal effort and optimal legal expenses insurance," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 179-189.

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