ClassAction.org maintains a direct line with our readers—you can get in touch with us here—and we’re asked seemingly every question under the sun about class action cases, settlements, the legal process and everything in between.
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One question we’re asked all the time involves perhaps the most crucial decision at the outset of any proposed class action suit. Sometimes, a reader will think they have an idea for a case, and they almost always want to know:
How do I find a class action lawyer?
That’s what we’ll be discussing here. Where and how do you find a class action attorney? Does it have to be one near you? Where should you start?
We’ll also touch on whether you even need a lawyer to file a class action. (Yes, you do.) Plus: how much does a consultation with a lawyer cost and how much are they going to make if they win the case?
Let’s talk about it.
How do I find a lawyer for a class action lawsuit?
So, where do you start when looking for a class action lawyer?
This answer might sound overly simple, but sometimes simple is the way to go when you’re unsure of where you’re headed.
When looking for a class action attorney, ClassAction.org generally recommends starting with a simple Google search. Try typing in “class action lawyer near me,” or “find a class action lawyer,” or even simply “class action lawyer” and pull on that thread first. Oftentimes, general searches like these will yield the most direct results and law firms within traveling distance.
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Now, to be clear, you don’t necessarily need your class action lawyer to be within walking or driving distance. The firms we work with, for instance, sign up consumers from across the country, and class action attorneys generally don’t shy away from working with a consumer just because they live in a different state. After all, class action cases often aim to represent large groups of people, sometimes nationwide.
Another possible starting point for your search could be the various state bar associations; many provide legal referral services. You can check out a list of state bar associations and various national organizations here.
Another avenue to pursue when searching for a class action lawyer is to check reputable attorney directories such as Martindale, Avvo, LegalZoom, LawInfo and FindLaw. These sites can be great resources for finding a lawyer for your specific legal needs.
One last place to start your search is on this very website. A list of the firms ClassAction.org has worked with can be found here.
If all else fails, it’s worth it to ask friends and family if they might have a recommendation for a class action lawyer they could send your way.
Can I file a class action lawsuit without a lawyer? Do I even need one?
An old proverb dictates that “a man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Though the saying generally applies to proceedings in which a person chooses to defend themself against criminal allegations, the same could very well ring true for a regular consumer who attempts to go at it alone against a corporation accused of wrongdoing.
While you can certainly try to file a class action lawsuit without a lawyer—filing in this way is called pro se, Latin for “on one’s own behalf”—you may want to think twice before trying to represent yourself (and potentially thousands of people) before a corporate defendant who more than likely has far more resources—time and money, to be clear—to litigate a dispute than the average consumer.
One of the principal benefits of class action litigation is that it provides regular folks with a means of fighting back against the alleged wrongdoing of a business. Frankly, class action cases are complicated and expensive and can be drawn out over the course of many months or years with many deadlines and specific procedural steps along the way. Class action lawyers and the firms they work for typically have the financial might, legal expertise and, crucially, time to stand toe to toe with corporate defendants in court.
Can you file a class action without a lawyer? Yes, technically you can. Should you? No, you shouldn’t.
What does a class action lawyer do?
First, let’s touch on what a class action lawsuit actually is. Broadly speaking, a class action lawsuit is a legal procedure that allows one or more people, called plaintiffs, to file and litigate a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group of people, sometimes hundreds or thousands of consumers, similarly affected by a defendant’s alleged conduct.
A class action attorney’s job, generally, is to represent those people skillfully and with expertise in court, from the moment the case is filed all the way through its resolution, whether it’s settled, dismissed or sent to arbitration. These types of lawyers are tasked with knowing the rules of the road, so to speak, in courts at both the state and federal level, as the procedures for each may vary.
A class action attorney knows the rules and terminology, participates in court proceedings, keeps track of deadlines, files motions and has the knowledge and track record to attempt to achieve a successful outcome on behalf of the class.
A key responsibility of a class action attorney is to prove to the court that a class action lawsuit is the most appropriate way to handle the dispute at hand – that is, to show the court that the “class members” deserve by law to be treated as one group for the purposes of the litigation. A class action attorney will also assign a lead plaintiff, i.e., the representative for the class.
If a settlement is reached, a class action attorney will also be tasked with handling the negotiations to seal the deal, which can be complex and involve weeks or months of back-and-forth between the parties.
Importantly, if you have an idea for a class action, an attorney can, at the outset, determine whether your idea is credible enough to actually be taken to court—and whether it might be successful. This may involve looking to see if similar cases exist and, if they do, whether they were successful. It can also involve investigating whether the statute of limitations has passed, whether enough people have been impacted by a company’s alleged conduct and which statutes the case can be brought under.
How do class action lawyers get paid? Do I pay the attorneys?
Off the bat: the plaintiff or plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit are not responsible for paying the attorneys. This is because class action attorneys typically get paid only if a case settles or receives a favorable verdict at trial. In either scenario, the attorneys’ compensation will be taken out of whatever settlement or monetary judgment is reached. If a case fails, you will not be stuck with the bill.
So, how much will a lawyer actually make on a class action case? In general, attorneys may receive anywhere from 25 percent to 35 percent of a settlement award, or more depending on the complexity of the suit. This amount may seem high, but keep in mind that class action cases typically involve multiple lawyers, industry experts for testimony, travel, court charges, and many hours of investigation and discovery, the expenses for which all must be reimbursed.
It's also important to remember that if a settlement is reached or a judgment is entered, attorneys’ fees and costs must be hashed out before the result is finalized, and attorneys must ensure their take-home from a suit is fair and reasonable. Ultimately, the court has the final say on how much attorneys make from a class action lawsuit and are allowed to reject an attorney’s proposed fees if they feel a bit, well, excessive – that is, disproportionate to the money recovered for the class.
Are consultations free?
Most of the time, a consultation with a class action lawyer will be free. However, you’ll want to double-check the lawyer’s or firm’s website before scheduling anything, just to make sure there’s no out-of-pocket cost.
Once I get a class action lawyer, how do I know they’re the right one? How do I choose?
A good class action lawyer will have experience, provide guidance and know the ins and outs of the legal process, as well as be a good and compassionate listener.
Another trait a consumer should look for in a class action attorney is responsiveness. Given how many people a class action might involve and how much time and work it could take to resolve a case, consistent communication between an attorney and the plaintiff or plaintiffs is critical. Look for an attorney who not only has thoughtful answers to your questions but takes you seriously and responds to you in a timely manner.
Do I need my own lawyer for a case that’s already been filed?
If you read about a class action that affects you—you might even do so on this very website!—you do not need to hire your own attorney. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the attorney who filed the case is trying to represent the entire proposed class, you included.
If you decide you do want to file your own case for whatever reason (it’s not uncommon for multiple class actions to be filed over the same issue), you can look into hiring one on your own.
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