January 01, 2014

The Tempting Contingent Fee Case

Too many lawyers take contingent fee cases only to regret the decision.

Garrett S. Flynn

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Eve Repentant is a magnificent marble statue in the Wadsworth Atheneum, an art museum located two blocks away from the U.S. District Court in Hartford. Poor Eve’s head is bowed; her shoulders are slumped; and a once-bitten apple, a symbol of her temptation and regret, lies at her feet near a coiled snake.

Too many lawyers are tempted to take complex business dispute cases on a contingency fee basis and wind up feeling like Eve.

This situation is very often avoidable. The best defense against temptation generally—knowledge—can also help a lawyer detect whether a potential contingency fee case has genuine merit rather than superficial appeal. Lawyers need to appreciate the various types of harm that can flow from taking a bad contingency fee case, recognize potential sources of temptation, and have a game plan for evaluating the actual quality of contingency fee cases before a particular one comes along.

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