Abraham Lincoln is credited with having said: "A Lawyer’s Time Is His Stock In Trade."
The Florida Supreme Court disagrees and here’s why you should care, even if you don’t practice in the State. . .
In one area of law, and maybe in more to come, the prevailing lawyer will have to be paid based soley upon a legislatively-set percentage of the value of his/her client’s case. So said the First DCA in Wood v Florida Rock, 31 Fla. L. Weekly D1458. But apparently recognizing the slipperly slope it was on, the First DCA certified as a question of great public importance: "Do the amended provisions of s440.34(1), clearly and unambiguously establish the percentage fee formula provided as the sole standard for determining the reasonableness of an attorney’s fee the be awarded a claimant?"
In an order entered July 12th four Justices of The Florida Supreme Court, by denying review of the certified question, for all practical purposes answered it in the affirmative. The Florida Legislature is now free to impose a set fee schedule in virtually any area of the law in which a statute allows for the award of prevailing party fees.
The Woods case happens to involve worker’s comp., a practice area in which the clients almost by definition don’t have alot of cash to pay legal fees. And even if they did, the economics of those cases has just shifted dramatically in favor of the defendants whose new favorite strategy will be delay & drive-up costs with full immunity since the fees to the prevailing party are now legistatively limited to a fixed percentage of recovery; the "sole" standard for the determination of reasonable attorneys fees for an injured worker’s attorney is a percentage (roughly 10%) of the "benefits achieved".
There is to be no regard given to the amount of time spent, difficulty of the issue, contingent nature of the relationship, or tenacity of the defense.
It’s not hard to imagine this same kind of a fee schedule being legislatively-imposed in other practice areas as well. And the Florida Supreme Court has just given an indication that it won’t act to curb this abuse.
So even if you don’t practice worker’s comp (and who will be able to afford to do that for much longer, in Florida at least!?!) you may want to pay attention to what just happened, because it could be your practice area next.