I'm somewhat appalled that an attorney -- especially a potentially not-very-good one -- can take a hefty amount of attorney's fees from a client in a totally simple case. The opinion here involves three cases from the law firm run by Lawrence D. Rohlfing (in Santa Fe Springs), which does social security cases and that contracts with its clients for the statutory maximum of 25% of the past-due benefits award. In the first case, an attorney affiliated with Rohlfing's firm -- Brian C. Shapiro -- spent less than 20 hours (in addition to less than five hours of paralegal time) in simple proceedings and obtained an award of $123,891.20, twenty-five percent of which would be $30,972.80. In other words, over $1500 an hour. Not bad for someone who's a 1997 graduate of Whittier Law School. Similarly, in the second case, another 1997 graduate of Whittier, Young Cho, also spent less than twenty hours (and less than five hours of paralegal time) to obtain an award the 25% contingency of which would be around $20,000.00. And in the final case, Denise Haley, an older graduate of Loyola Law School, worked 25.5 hours (plus 1.1 hours of paralegal time) to get an award the 25% contingency of which would be over $43,000; in other words, around $1700/hour. And, remember, these are not tough cases -- they're social security matters, and ones that (tellingly) take around 20 hours total to resolve. ...Notice the extreme degree of condescension here even when the author knows essentially nothing about the field of law or its economics or the people involved? I wonder if Professor Martin feels like he is slumming by teaching at the USD. I guess that USD must have a much more highly highly regarded law school than Whittier or Loyola, but California readers may be able to help on that one.
Do I feel the same way about other lawsuits -- say, a difficult and hotly contested medical malpractice action? Honestly, no. There, for some reason, even if the attorney ends up making $1000+ an hour, I feel like they may well have earned it. But social security matters -- and ones that take less than a couple dozen hours at that? There's just some part of that that feels different to me.
I could write a good deal on the subject, but the bottom line is that attorneys are hardly eager to do federal court work in Social Security cases. Only a relatively small percentage of attorneys who represent Social Security claimants administratively even want to do the federal court work. I think a reasonable person might wonder if adequate economic incentives are in place to attract attorneys to this field of practice. Basically, if it is so easy and so lucrative, why do so few attorneys get involved? I would suggest that is is because of decisions such as Crawford.
Apparently, this is not the first time that Martin has made comments that others found offensive. Professor Martin does not allow comments on his blog, but you can e-mail him.