The Controversy over Contingency Fees in the American Civil Law System.

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Contingency Fee Controversy

Contingency Fees (when a lawyer takes a portion of a settlement rather than a basic hourly rate) have been a highly debated topic over the past decade. While many critics of these fees believe that they cause greed in lawyers and frivolous cases in the courtroom, many people who could not otherwise afford legal representation disagree. Contingency Fees are the working class person's ticket to the courtroom and a low risk way to seek compensation for their injuries, while awarding exceptional work on the part of their lawyers.

Contingency fees give a middle class person the same access to the courtroom that a person of more affluent means may have. The expense of quality legal representation is not something an average person can afford. For many, giving a percentage of their settlement is a far better alternative than simply letting the matter rest. While many critics of contingency fees have said that lawyers "charge contingency fees to middle and upper income clients who could easily afford to pay on an hourly basis", (Olson 52) this is simply not the case.

For even an upper or middle class person, the effects of a $250 hourly fee over a long period of time would be devastating to their budget. Given the option, many clients would prefer to pay on a contingency fee basis, regardless of their income. They prefer this system, not only because it requires no payment up front, but also because contingency fees are just that, contingent on whether the client wins. In these cases, a client can assume minimal risk while still being provided with quality legal care. A recent example of this is the Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts's case against the tobacco lobby to recover Medicare funds spent treating years of smoking associated illnesses.