Attorney Fees in Class Action Settlements: An Empirical Study
Cornell University, Law School (deceased)
Geoffrey P. Miller
New York University School of Law
NYU, Law and Economics Research Paper No. 04-030; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 04-033
Study of two comprehensive class action case data sets covering 1993-2002 shows that the amount of client recovery is overwhelmingly the most important determinant of the attorney fee award. Even in cases in which the courts engage in the lodestar calculation (the product of reasonable hours and a reasonable hourly rate), the client's recovery generally explains the pattern of awards better than the lodestar. Thus, the time and expense of a lodestar calculation may be wasteful. We also find no robust evidence that either recoveries for plaintiffs or fees of their attorneys increased over time. The mean fee award in common fund cases is well below the widely quoted one-third figure, constituting 21.9 percent of the recovery across all cases for a comprehensive data set of published cases. A scaling effect exists: fees constitute a lower percent of the client's recovery of the client's recovery increases. Fees are also correlated with risk: the presence of high risk is associated with a higher fee, while low-risk cases generate lower fees. Fees as a percent of class recovery were found to be higher in federal than state court. The presence of "soft" relief (such as injunctive relief or coupons) has no material effect on the fee, regardless of whether the soft relief was included in the quantified benefit for the class used as the basis for computing the attorney fee. The study also addressed costs and expenses. Like fees, these displayed significant scale effects. The paper proposes a simple methodology by which courts can evaluate the reasonableness of fee requests.
Keywords: fees, class actions
JEL Classification: K13, K41
Date posted: December 8, 2003
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