Judges! Stop Deferring to Class-Action Lawyers

12 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2013 Last revised: 16 Sep 2013

See all articles by Brian Wolfman

Brian Wolfman

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2013


The idea for this article came from the author's representation of a national non-profit consumer rights organization in a federal appeal challenging a district court's approval of a class-action settlement. The organization's appellate briefs argued that the district court committed a reversible legal error when it deferred to the class-action lawyers' recommendation to approve the settlement because, in those lawyers' views, the settlement was "fair, reasonable, and adequate" (which is the standard for class-action settlement approval under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e)). The district court also deferred to the lawyers' reputations as talented and honest lawyers. In approving class-action settlements, many other federal courts also have deferred to the settling lawyers' views on the fairness of the settlement and to those lawyers' reputations.

In this article, the author maintains that proper class-action administration demands that in considering whether to approve a class-action settlement, a court should never defer to the views or reputations of the lawyers who are seeking the settlement's approval. Rather, the court should always exercise its independent judgment as to whether the proposed settlement is "fair, reasonable, and adequate." The court's exercise of independent judgment is needed, the author maintains, to protect the interests of absent class members.

Keywords: class actions, settlements, judicial deference, litigation

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Wolfman, Brian, Judges! Stop Deferring to Class-Action Lawyers (2013). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 2, pp. 80-90, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2324152

Brian Wolfman (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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