'Clientless' Lawyers

57 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2017 Last revised: 4 Apr 2017

Russell M. Gold

Wake Forest University - School of Law

Date Written: February 28, 2017


Class counsel and prosecutors have a lot more in common than scholars realize. These lawyers have clients, but their clients are diffuse and lack a formal decisionmaking structure. Because of the nature of their clients, class counsel and prosecutors have to make decisions for their clients that one would ordinarily expect clients to make — and indeed that legal ethics rules would expressly require clients to make in other contexts — such as decisions concerning objectives of representation or whether to settle or plead guilty. Both complex litigation and criminal law scholars recognize that these lawyers’ self-interests diverge from their clients’ interests. But the complex litigation and criminal law literatures discuss the ensuing accountability problem solely in their own spheres. This article considers the insights about accountability that complex litigation can learn from criminal law.

More specifically, the article argues that although there are real differences between the two systems, these differences do not justify the completely different approaches to accountability that the two contexts employ. Rather, the comparison suggests that internal checks within class counsel’s firm, between plaintiffs’ firms, or between third-party funders and class counsel can improve accountability, much as internal checks improve accountability within some prosecutors’ offices.

Keywords: class actions, complex litigation, criminal law, prosecutors, agency cost, accountability, legal ethics

JEL Classification: K14, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Gold, Russell M., 'Clientless' Lawyers (February 28, 2017). 92 Wash. L. Rev. 87 (2017); Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2925384

Russell M. Gold (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States
336-758-3944 (Phone)

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