Bankruptcy Attorney Fees: Make them contingent


             A company files for bankruptcy. Millions of dollars are lost by unsecured creditors. There is no cash to pay lawyers to go after third parties. What do you do? 

            It’s simple. Find a competent firm willing to take the case on a contingent or hybrid fee basis. 

            Take theHeller Ehrman bankruptcy as an example. The 750-member international law firm filed for bankruptcy, in part it says, because its main two lenders -- Bank of America and Citibank -- refused to renegotiate the terms of a $5.7 million debt the banks say the firm owes as part of a long-term loan. 

            According to a recent court filing, the unsecured creditors' committee has asked the bankruptcy judge to approve the hire of a litigation firm for a pending case against Bank of America and Citibank. Under the proposed contract, the 11-lawyer firm would be paid $1 million up front, plus a contingency fee based on the net benefit to the estate if they win. “It’s BIG, You’re in Charge! Firm Picked for Pending Case Against BofA, Citi,” The Recorder, April 9, 2010. 

            When such a bankruptcy gets underway, counsel for the debtor should investigate potential claims against third-parties. They should then work with the unsecured creditors’ committee to search for special counsel – typically contingent fee business litigators who frequently represent plaintiffs against powerful companies. Once they negotiate a contract with the law firm that will undertake the case, the contract can be presented to the bankruptcy judge for approval. 

            Of course, the firm chosen for the task must possess entrepreneurial spirit and courage, as big third-party defendants such as B of A and Citi will have excellent counsel who are highly motivated by their substantial hourly fees. But such is the case in major, contingent fee business litigation. 

            In the end, it should be a win-win for everyone. Enough money may be generated to pay back all or part of what is due the unsecured creditors. Counsel for the debtor and the creditors will be heroes. The Court will be happy. The contingency fee lawyers, who get paid if they win, will be happy. The only unhappy people will be the third-party defendants who pay. 

            If the right lawyer agrees to take the case, it’s a no-brainer for the debtor and creditors!


How Much Are Citigroup's Former Employees Worth Dead?

     Since the beginning of 2008, Citigroup has made thousands of employee layoffs and is poised to discharge thousands more by year’s end. The layoffs may ultimately total between 17,000 to 24,000 employees due to subprime and credit-related losses, according to CNBC.

     The layoffs raise the interesting question, “how much are Citigroup’s former employees worth dead?”

     Citibank, N.A., like many national banks, invests heavily in policies of bank owned life insurance or “BOLI.” BOLI policies insure the lives of the bank’s employees, but unlike traditional life insurance name the bank as the policy beneficiary. When the bank employee dies, the insurance benefits are paid to the bank. 

     Banks, like Citibank, are required to report their life insurance holdings through reports filed with the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council and report those holdings on line five of a schedule called “RC-F—Other Assets.” Those reports demonstrate that Citibank has acquired billions of dollars of BOLI coverage on the lives of its employees since 2006. Citibank possessed $2.215 billion in BOLI coverage as of March 31, 2006, $3.325 billion as of March 31, 2007, and $3.99 billion as of December 31, 2007. Notably, banks report their life insurance assets in terms of cash surrender value, meaning that the policy benefits due from employee deaths are likely far greater than the amount reported on the schedules. 

     BOLI policies remain in force even if the insured person’s employment with the bank ends. Thus, Citibank will receive insurance benefits upon the deaths of its former employees who were insured by a BOLI policy. As the employees who were laid off in 2008 die, policy benefits will flow to Citibank. And from a pool of 17,000 to 24,000 former employees, those benefits may be significant, even by Citibank’s standards.