Madison County's watchdog

The Madison County Record Jun. 27, 2011, 2:46am

Readers of the Madison County Record are aware of the enormous societal costs of contingency fee-fueled tort abuse. The average American, however, is not. That's why Lester Brickman's new book, Lawyer Barons: What Their Contingency Fees Really Cost America, is so important.

Is the average American going to read Professor Brickman's book? Probably not, but powerful legislators and influential members of the bar will, and the book's key points will eventually find its way into our cultural mainstream where popular revulsion may lead, ultimately, to demands for reform.

Metro East muckety-muck Stephen Tillery figures prominently in one chapter. Brickman notes that Tillery's firm "has amassed around $600 million in fees and more than $1.8 billion in settlements of class action cases. . . . Most of Tillery's cases," he emphasizes, "were filed in Madison County, Illinois, and presided over by Judge Nicholas Byron."

According to Brickman, "The Byron-Tillery tandem played a major role in securing for Madison County its justly deserved reputation – shared with Beaumont, Texas – as the Barbary Coast for class action litigation."

Reviewing Brickman's book for Engage, the journal of the Federalist Society, Connecticut attorney Margaret Little praises the professor for exposing "the formidable costs and distortions imposed by the contingency fee upon the civil justice system and core principles of democratic governance."

Brickman's book, says Little, explains "why a lawyer's stake in the outcome leads to perverse and unethical practices, and how judges (by expanding liability and engaging in brazen nullification of tort reform), legislatures, and law schools work to perpetuate these lawyer-favoring financial incentives."

Little summarizes the proposals Brickman makes for correcting the problems caused by contingency fee arrangements -- and adds one of her own: "exposure of these problems to public scrutiny."

We're all over that one, Little. In fact, it's our raison d'etre, and we've been at it for a long time. We've shown, time and again, that unsavory legal practices cannot withstand public scrutiny.

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