WASHINGTON — Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said today that limits should be considered for lawyers' fees in personal injury cases to restrain "overreaching" by attorneys.
"There is a place for the contingent fee. But there are some limits which must be studied and considered," Burger said. "Happily, some thoughtful judges have already moved to protect the clients from this overreaching."
Contingent fees apply to cases in which a lawyer agrees to represent a client with the understanding he or she will receive a percentage of any court award if the suit is successful.
Burger, in a speech to the American Law Institute, said lawyers have an unfair advantage in negotiating such payments. He noted that judges always have exerted control over fee contracts involving minors.
"Many adults, injured persons or survivors of deceased persons, are no more capable of making a valid judgment on the appropriateness of the valid fee contract of 33- or 40- or 50% than a 12-year-old child," he said.