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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
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BP Oil Spill – Greed is Good?

3 comments

It’s amazing to read some of the stories: LA Times; Birmingham News; and The Wall Street Journal. Attorneys are gravitating to the gulf coast to get in on the action. It’s like heading to the casino, but the odds are a lot better that these attorneys will profit.

Litigation costs, discovery costs, attorney fees. This is where a lot of the money will go. Think of the good use for that money. Instead of the incredible litigation costs and fees, it could help with the cleanup. The funds could help replenish business funds and tourism losses.

If only reasonable minds could prevail. Can they? Can the executives of BP come forth and say, "Let’s sit down and work this thing out." Can attorneys suck up their egos and talk to their clients about coming to the table with BP? Can the injured parties be reasonable and not look for a windfall? Probably not.

Why? Well, the lawyers see a big payday. The gulf coast and surrounding businesses are angry and want BP to pay. And, BP probably won’t be forthcoming and own up to their responsibilities.

What if the attorneys agreed not to take a fee from their clients? What if BP offered to pay attorneys to help them reach a resolution which satisfied and compensated all interests? What if the conflicts could be worked out and reasonable minds did prevail? What if?

Unfortunately, greed will probably control. BP is greedy and doesn’t want to let go of their money. The local individuals and industries are greedy and want to get as much as they can. And, the attorneys are greedy. They see their lottery winnings coming in.

Where do you come out on this issue? Do you want to see prolonged litigation? What’s your solution?

3 Comments

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    Jon, I appreciate your taking a step back and asking some fundamental questions about what the best outcome could be in this tragic situation. But I’m not sure I agree with your central premise: that litigation is bad, per se.

    Yes, litigation can exact a huge cost and take a long time. But the concept of having an impartial arbiter decide the fairest way to apportion blame and set the value of a party’s injuries is one of the advances of civilization. Whether we call it litigation, arbitration, or even mediation, these are just different ways of getting people to bare their case and find the closest thing we can to fair. The reason we have judges is because we know that often parties cannot find a middle ground.

    You say “cooler heads,” but lawyers get involved in part to be the cooler head, the uninvolved party that can provide advice to people who may well be blinded by anger or resentment (and rightfully so, in many cases). Litigation is all about cooler heads.

    Suppose the parties all get together in a room and handle things themselves. What does that mean? Is there an arbiter/judge? Who will represent the corporate entity that is BP? A lawyer? A CEO (who might well be a lawyer, but at the very least is highly trained), someone experienced in negotiation? They’ll be facing a group that ranges the spectrum of sophistication, legal knowledge, persuasiveness, and ability to frame and respond to arguments (from a relatively-uneducated fisherman to a hotel CEO). Lawyers fill the role of professional advocate for people who have not the time, inclination, training or skill to represent themselves in such a high-stakes negotiation. It lets that fisherman get access to the same advocacy skills as BP’s CEO.

    It’s a little too easy to suggest that, if people weren’t so greedy, things would just work out. By law, BP has to be greedy, on behalf of their shareholders. BP, who deals with these types of issues all too frequently, would have an unfair advantage over people who are dealing with a potentially-devastating, once-in-a-lifetime disaster, for which we would not expect them to have prepared.

  2. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thanks for your opinions William. Just to clarify a bit. I’m not saying litigation is bad. Sometimes, litigation is necessary. It’s really the way people go about doing things. Suits have been filed in some cases before damages have occurred.

    Attorneys are fishing for cases (no pun intended). They are buying Google ads. Here are the sponsored links for “BP Oil Attorney”:

    1. BP Oil Spill Class Action
    http://www.oil-spill.com We represent businesses that have incurred damages from the oil spill
    2.Bp Lawyer http://www.maintenanceandcure.com Expert Oil Rig Explosions Lawyer 45 Years Experience. Louisiana.
    3.Bp Oil http://www.bp.com/gulfofmexicoresponse Info about the Gulf of Mexico Spill Learn More about How BP is Helping.

    It’s a race to the courthouse. I just don’t see that as our profession. I’m a little old fashioned in that way. I think the old way: client has problem, client hires attorney to help with problem, attorney tries to resolve, and if cannot resolve amicably, goes to litigation.

    Here, attorneys have filed something like 36 lawsuits and will ask questions later. If I’m not mistaken, there is not deadline at this point in time.

    Litigation is supposed to be about cooler heads, but it isn’t always, and seemingly, it is becoming less and less so.

    I’m not saying that if people weren’t so greedy things would just work out. I’m not that naive. I’m also not placing all the blame on the attorneys. BP will hide documents and delay through their own attorneys. Look at what Exxon did for 20 years. They already circulated $5,000 settlement offers. I’m also not saying the damaged parties don’t need some type of representation. It’s just the way everyone goes about it today with the mass torts.

    It’s a fight between attorneys to be the lead attorneys in the multi-district litigation, and why? Let’s be honest. It comes down to money.

    Lastly, I would argue that BP does not have to be greedy on behalf of its shareholders. In fact, if my proposition were taken seriously, I would bet you that it would cost BP less than it otherwise would, especially if a large verdict is rendered in one of these cases.

    My blog was intended to be thought provoking and idealistic. I appreciate all viewpoints with respect to this issue, and I do thank you for your comments.

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    Good points. I think you’re right that BP will pay more by being adversarial–if not in verdicts, then overall in terms of image an brand value.

    Not sure what we can do to change the race to be first with a client on a mass tort (which you’re right, involves money), except maybe de-emphasize first-in-time in the lead counsel selection process in cases with a national scope. We already do something similar with airline crashes–prohibiting lawyer contact for a certain amount of time.