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
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.