Professor Michael Perino’s co-authored article on securities class action fee-setting (linked below), which will be published in the Columbia Law Review, was cited in this Reuters story by Alison Frankel. A bit from the beginning:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a fee opinion by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of Manhattan, who decided that a request by class counsel for 13 percent of a $346 million settlement with underwriters of IndyMac mortgage-backed securities was just too much. Even though the 13 percent request was in line with the fee deal plaintiffs’ firms had negotiated in advance of the litigation with the lead plaintiff, a public pension fund, Kaplan cut the fee award to 8 percent, based on his own experience with securities class actions and skepticism about the hours reported by class counsel.
That example is a paradigm of the problems with the current system of awarding fees in securities class actions, at least as those problems have been pinpointed in an upcoming Columbia Law Review article by law professors Lynn Baker and Charles Silver of the University of Texas and Michael Perino of St. John’s University. In “Is the Price Right: An Empirical Study of Fee-Setting in Securities Class Actions,” the professors dipped into the dockets of 434 settlements announced between 2007 and 2012, looking at (among other things) how pre-set fee agreements with counsel factored into lead plaintiff selections; how fee requests and awards varied by the volume of cases handled by different jurisdictions and even individual judges; and why judges in about 15 percent of the settlements cut the requested fees.
Their overall conclusion is that in the vast majority of cases, fees are determined after the fact, based only on the size of settlement and the biases of the court. The professors argue that their findings show one of the goals of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 – to encourage lead plaintiffs to exercise oversight by negotiating fee arrangements with class counsel at the onset of a case – has not been met. They also concluded plaintiffs lawyers may be exploiting market inefficiencies by requesting higher fees from courts with a low volume of securities cases. And judges who slash fee requests without real analysis of benchmarks, they said, create uncertainty that, in the long run, hurts investors because it discourages class action lawyers from investing in cases.