Lawsuit Defense Through A Contingent Fee

    Most people have some idea about how a contingent fee works in a plaintiff’s case. Say you are injured in a car wreck. You find a personal injury lawyer. He advances the case expenses and gets paid a percentage of the money received in a settlement. "No fee if no recovery." This same idea works in complex business lawsuits. If a small business or entrepreneur lacks the money to pay lawyers by the hour, there are firms, like ours, that will take even expensive, complicated, business cases on a contingent fee. This helps level the playing field and gives the little guy access to justice.

       But what happens when the little guy gets sued and has to defend himself? What happens when Goliath sues David?

       Well, there are some options.

  • David might assign part of his company, invention or assets to an institutional investor who will pay for the defense.
  • David might assign part of his company, invention or assets to a law firm that will undertake the defense.
  • David might have a counterclaim that a contingent fee lawyer would assert, and include defense of Goliath’s claim as part of the representation.
  • David might find a lawyer willing to defer payment of an hourly fee until David is able to pay.
  • David might use a "reverse contingent fee."

    Blawgletter Barry Barnett gives some excellent examples in "How to Negotiate a Reverse Contingent Fee."

    Sometimes David can defend against an attack by Goliath by using a combination of these techniques. In one case, I was asked by a small medical device manufacturer to defend it in a "bet the company" patent infringement and unfair competition case. The plaintiff, Goliath, was a huge company, well-funded, and was represented by two large and very able law firms. Goliath wanted to stomp out David like a bug! We looked to see if David had an antitrust counterclaim, but that didn’t work out. David was able to pay some of the trial expenses (such as jury consultants and trial graphics) but we worked "by the hour" hoping that if David could survive, we would somehow get paid.

       The case was tried to a verdict. David won. Goliath’s stock lost half its market cap ($1.5 billion) overnight! We were patient about getting paid. David merged into a large European medical device company, and we were finally paid for our work. It was a win-win, and we were very proud to have helped save the day!

       As Barry explains,

By way of example, if the law firm and client agree that a patent infringement case exposes the client to potential liability of $10 million, the RCF would equal a percentage -- 40 percent, say -- of the difference between $10 million and any lower amount that the client pays in settlement or as a result of a judgment. If we zero out the plaintiff, our fee totals $4 million -- .4 x ($10 million - $0) = $4 million.