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Lawyers who represented St. Louis will get $276.5 million, plus costs

Chris Simms and Mike Florio think the Rams could come out of their bye week with a vengeance when they take on the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 12.

The partners in the law firm of Dowd Bennett LLP and Blitz Bardgett & Deutsch had 276.5 million reasons to be thankful this week.

Unde the settlement agreement reached on Wednesday between the NFL and the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the law firms representing the plaintiffs get 35 percent of the $790 million settlement, plus their costs, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That’s at least $276.5 million; the litigation costs (travel, deposition fees, computerized research, and even photocopies at perhaps 25 cents per page or more) will be over and above the payment of fees.

That’s a shocking amount, on the surface. But that’s how it works. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs operated on a contingency fee. As you’ve surely heard on countless TV commercials, “We don’t get paid unless we get money for you.”

The practice of contingency fees allows those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer to do so. No money is needed up front. No regular invoices get submitted. No financial obligation (other than costs, which often are waived) arises if the case goes to pot.

It’s one thing for a family with little or no means whose primary breadwinner suffered a serious injury in a car accident to hire a law firm on a contingency fee. They can’t afford to hire a lawyer. And they can’t navigate the process of claims adjusters and courtrooms and judges and juries in order to get the full amount of compensation that a skilled and experienced lawyer can get for them.

It’s different with organizational clients that have ongoing revenue streams and budgets and the ability to pay lawyer bills as they go. The St. Louis plaintiffs would have had -- and should have had -- a lot more in hand post-settlement if they’d understood the strength of their case, and if they’d hired a law firm to handle the case at an hourly rate, assuming the risk of being out a lot of money in fees if they’d lost.

That said, the profit incentive may have made the lawyers more determined to push and fight and scratch and claw for every last penny as they went toe to toe with Big Shield. Lawyers getting paid by the hour wouldn’t have had the same skin in the game. The same big-ass carrot dangling in their faces as they chased a multi-billion-dollar entity through the lawyers and levels of the court system for justice against an entity that believed it was above accountability.

Regardless of the precise reasons of the various St. Louis entities to opt for a contingency fee over paying by the hour with no guarantee of getting any payment from the NFL as a result of the litigation, there’s a $276.5 million question to be asked of whoever within the three entities agreed to treat this significant piece of corporate litigation like a run-of-the-mill personal injury case. Because whatever fees the law firms would have racked up over the past five years, there’s no way the total amount would have been as much as they’ll now be getting.