Last week, the Peach State became the latest state to require full transparency on contingency fees for private lawyers when they are retained to litigate on the state’s behalf.On May 29, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens issued an administrative order that requires all contingency-fee contracts with outside counsel (and details of all payments pursuant to such contracts) to be posted promptly on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. The new policy also requires any proceeds from litigation performed by outside counsel to be paid directly to the state agency involved in the litigation or otherwise to the state treasury for appropriate disposition through the normal appropriations process. It also calls for strict oversight by the AG’s office of all litigation undertaken by private attorneys, including all important decisions including settlement negotiations.
The recent trend among states to hire outside contingency-fee counsel is just another worrisome area for corporate defendants in facing prosecution under consumer protection laws. The need for accountability in this area is great, and Georgia’s latest announcement continues a recent counter-trend where government is seeking more transparency. As American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce wrote for The Legal Pulse a little over a year ago, the Arizona legislature adopted reforms to require more transparency over AG-trial lawyer arrangements. And just last week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled in two cases that the legislature, not the attorney general, is the entity responsible for paying contingent-fee lawyers their fees. All very encouraging developments.