Attorney General Sam Olens issued an administrative order this week setting up the mechanism for hiring private lawyers on a contingency-fee basis in special cases. The Law Department already contracts with special attorneys general for a share of the proceeds in routine bill-collection cases but never before in lawsuits.
Private lawyers often work for a split of the winnings when suing large companies, especially when a client might not have the resources to pay an hourly fee of hundreds of dollars every month for the years required in a big case. The attorneys only collect if they win. Otherwise, they get nothing.
Olens’ policy states that finances would be a factor when deciding whether to pay by the hour or on contingency.
“Our goal is to serve as good stewards of taxpayers’ money and always employ outside counsel on the most economical terms possible,” he said.
Attorneys who represent private clients on a contingency agreed with the new policy.
“In the long run, they are probably saving the taxpayers money,” said Michael G. Schiavone, of Jackson & Schiavone in Savannah.
Olens’ order calls for posting the details of every contingency contract on the department’s Web site, with quarterly updates on how much has been paid out. Those attorneys will make regular progress reports which will be available to the public as long as their contents would not give away the state’s legal strategy to courtroom opponents.
The Law Department sues companies for violations of civil laws, such as false advertising, bogus investments or faulty products.
It hires dozens of private lawyers every year when they have special expertise or to minimize travel by staff attorneys.