Shopping for a lawyer: New FTC guide offers consumers advice on legal services, but critics aren't buying it

ABA Journal
Sunday, December 1, 2002

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a new consumer guide to go alongside dozens of others. The title says it all: "Need a Lawyer? Judge for Yourself."

The new guide to hiring a lawyer offers general advice on retainers, hourly and flat-fee rates, and legal services programs. And, for those considering joining a class action, it points out that you don't have much, if any, control over the case.

But it also gets quite specific about contingency fee agreements. The agency says they are "always negotiable," and suggests a sliding scale based on such factors as degree of difficulty and whether the case piggybacks on already completed government investigations. And offers a caveat: If a contingency case brings no money, the consumer may still owe fees and costs incurred in the litigation.

For now, the guidelines are only on the Internet--for those resourceful enough to find their way through a few portals at

"The way this thing reads is fine except two sections, the ones about contingency fees and class actions," says Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a New York City-based group that fights tort reform. "These are the two most important tools consumers have to get access to the courts."

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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