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Category: Fees & Claims Rate

Article: The Changing Landscape of Fees in Securities Class Actions

December 11, 2023

A recent Law 360 article by Edward Flores, The Shifting Landscape of Securities Class Action Fees”, reports on the changing landscape of attorney fees in securities class actions.  This article was posted with permission.  The article reads:

A recent Law360 article notes that there appears to be a growing shift in how class action fees are awarded, with the benefits secured for class members taking an increasing role in determining fees rather than fees simply being a function of the settlement amount.  An examination of data on the percentage of the recovery awarded to attorneys in securities class actions shows that while the percentage declines as recoveries get larger, that percentage also increases as recoveries grow relative to a statistically predicted recovery.

As part of the settlement stage of a securities class action, plaintiffs file motions for approval of the settlement, as well as attorney fees and expenses.  In these motions, the attorney fees sought are typically based on a percentage of the proposed settlement, with the proposed figures often based on a sample of recent cases, the case's lodestar multiplier or relevant benchmarks.  For example, a June case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, In re: Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc., noted that "Lead Counsel intends to seek an award of attorneys' fees of no more than one third of the Settlement Amount.  This fee request is in line with other settlements approved in recent cases."

In another case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in July, Bond v. Clover Health Investments Corp., the plaintiffs' counsel noted that the "request for 25% of the Settlement Fund ... amounts to a lodestar multiplier of 3.53, which is within the range of multipliers commonly awarded in securities class actions and other complex litigation."

Finally, the plaintiffs' counsel in a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case in August, Purple Mountain Trust v. Wells Fargo & Co., noted that "Lead Counsel seeks an award of attorneys' fees of 25% of the Settlement Amount.  This fee request ... is consistent with the benchmark for attorneys' fee awards in this Circuit."

Plaintiffs counsel also typically highlights the recovery they have obtained for the class and their work to obtain that recovery.  For example, in the aforementioned case involving Clover Health, counsel for the plaintiffs noted that the "recovery represents approximately 13.2% of the likely recoverable damages in this case, well above the median recovery of 1.8% of estimated damages for all securities class actions settled in 2022."

However, those recoveries are, at best, benchmarked as a percentage of some estimate of losses suffered by the class.  An important question is whether plaintiffs counsel receives a higher fee when they obtain an unexpectedly large settlement, potentially indicating productive work on their part.  Moreover, it may be of interest to see what other factors drive attorney fees awarded in securities class actions, both in terms of examining the direction and magnitude that certain factors have on attorney fees, as well as for purposes of estimating or cross-checking proposed fees given certain characteristics of a case.

Data and Analysis

To examine what factors can help explain attorney fees awarded, we analyzed securities class actions with alleged violations of Rule 10b-5 involving common stock that settled during the period from January 2012 through June.  In addition to the logarithm of the actual settlement amount, some of the variables analyzed include a potential proxy for attorney performance and the strength of a case, the time to resolution of a case, and the status of certain motions as of the time of settlement.

As a potential proxy for attorney performance and the strength of a case, we calculated the ratio of the actual settlement value to its mean predicted settlement value to examine if better-than-expected settlements are reflected in attorney fees received.  For each case, the mean predicted settlement value was calculated using an econometric model that uses as inputs variables that are historically known to drive settlement values.[8] For the middle 95% of cases in the dataset, the value of this ratio ranges from 0.2 to 3.8.

We also examined the effect that the time to resolution has on attorney fees, based on the filing of the first complaint of a case.  Finally, we examined the effects that the filing and outcome of the motion to dismiss and the motion for class certification have on attorney fees.  In measuring attorney fees, we used two different variables: attorney fees as a percentage of the settlement, and total attorney fees and expenses as a percentage of the settlement.  As these variables range from 0 to 1, a fractional logistic regression model is used to analyze the relationship between attorney fees and the independent variables.

As the coefficients of this model can be hard to interpret, we examined the marginal effects of the independent variables in order to get an idea of the effect that a change in one variable has on attorney fee percentage, holding all others constant.


From Table 1, we see that the ratio of the actual settlement to the mean predicted settlement has a positive and statistically significant effect, possibly highlighting how a better-than-expected outcome is rewarded in attorney fees.  In terms of magnitude, we find that a 0.1 increase in this ratio results in an additional 0.1% in attorney fee percentage.

One interesting question that our data does not let us answer is whether higher-than-predicted settlements reflect a particularly strong prosecution of the case by plaintiffs counsel or case factors favorable to the class that are not captured by our model.  Overall, we find that the variables in the model using attorney fee percentage as the dependent variable can explain nearly 20% of the total variation in attorney fee percentage.

Looking at the individual variables beyond the ratio of the actual to predicted recovery, the logarithm of the settlement value is unsurprisingly the strongest predictor of attorney fees, with higher settlement values being associated with a lower attorney fee percentage, consistent with prior research.

On the other hand, the time-to-resolution variable had a small and statistically insignificant effect, with each year contributing an additional 0.22% in attorney fee percentage.  Thus, to the extent that courts are rewarding plaintiffs counsel — or plaintiffs counsel are willing to ask for more — through the fee percentage, that would appear to be based more on results than time spent.

When analyzing the motion variables, we find that the filing of a motion to dismiss has a statistically significant negative effect on attorney fees.  Meanwhile, the effect of a motion to dismiss being denied or partially granted is positive and statistically significant, contributing an additional 1.5% in attorney fee percentage and again potentially showing that plaintiffs counsel is rewarded for achieving outcomes favorable to the class.

As over 90% of settled cases have a motion to dismiss filed, this means that cases where the motion to dismiss is denied or partially granted tend to have a 1.5% higher attorney fee percentage relative to cases that settle before a court decision was reached in the motion to dismiss.

The filing of a motion for class certification has a small and not statistically significant effect on attorney fees.  However, the effect of a motion for class certification being granted is positive and statistically significant, contributing an additional 1.6% in attorney fee percentage, again consistent with the idea that plaintiffs counsel is being rewarded for achieving outcomes favorable to the class.

We also performed this analysis using total attorney fees and expenses as a percentage of the settlement size as the dependent variable.  Under this model, the explanatory variables explain roughly 40% of the total variation in total attorney fees and expenses.

While the results look similar for several of the variables analyzed, there are a few notable differences. For example, the time-to-resolution variable was statistically significant in this model, with each year contributing an additional 0.62% in attorney fee percentage and expenses.  In other words, plaintiffs counsel appear to be compensated for actual expenses, but are not being compensated through the fee percentage for time spent.

The filing of a motion for class certification was also positive and statistically significant, contributing to an additional 2.8% in attorney fee percentage and expenses.


Our analysis of settled cases shows that in addition to the settlement size, plaintiffs counsel in securities class actions appear to be rewarded for good settlement outcomes relative to a statistical prediction, with certain outcomes for the motion to dismiss and motion for class certification also affecting attorney fees awarded.

As a starting point, this means that in securities class actions, attorney fees are not just based on "the amount of money involved in a settlement," but also to at least some degree on the difference between that amount of money and the expected amount of money based on characteristics of the case.

That said, it is possible that analyses such as those described here may also be useful for purposes of estimating or cross-checking proposed fees given certain characteristics or outcomes in a case, particularly if one would like to reward successful advocacy by plaintiffs counsel. 

As noted above, however, while our proxy variable for attorney performance and strength of case incorporates several quantitative factors that drive settlement values, it may not account for other qualitative strengths and weaknesses of a case.

Nevertheless, given that there are some areas that we can measure, it may make sense to see how a proposed settlement compares to a statistical prediction as part of the consideration of the relevant amount of attorney fees.

Edward Flores is a senior consultant at NERA Economic Consulting.

Federal Judge Rules on Reasonable Rates in New York

November 10, 2023

A recent Law 360 story by Marco Poggio, “Attys Get $2.25 Fees in NYC Suit Over Bronx Protest Arrests”, reports that a New York federal judge has greenlighted $2.25 million in attorney fees for counsel who represented protesters trapped by police in a Bronx block during the 2020 protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, one of the attorneys confirmed.  In an order giving her final approval on the settlement agreement in the cases Sierra et al v. City of New York and Wood v. De Blasio , U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon authorized the payment of attorney fees and costs through March 3, the day she gave her preliminary approval on the deal.

Judge McMahon called the total fees award "reasonable" and said it was the product of a "fair, arm's length negotiation" among parties.  The judge also found the class counsel hourly rates — $800 per hour for Michael L. Spiegel, $575 for Rob Rickner of Rickner PLLC, $550 for Joshua S. Moskovitz of Hamilton Clarke LLP and his partners, $525 for Alison Frick and Douglas Lieb of Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick LLP, and $325 for two associates — to be appropriate.

The class's legal team estimated it clocked a total of 4,360 hours of attorney time, according to an Oct. 17 court filing by Moskovitz.  "The class representatives and the whole legal team are very happy that the court has approved this groundbreaking class action settlement," Rickner told Law360.  The attorneys will establish the fees accumulated after March 3 among themselves, and if no agreement will be reached, through petitions to the court, Judge McMahon said in her order.

The settlement agreement, which includes some of the highest payouts to protesters ever recorded, ends a class action brought on behalf of nearly 320 protesters who were arrested on June 4, 2020, in the Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven. That event became one of the most highly criticized police responses to the citywide demonstrations going on at the time.

The five named plaintiffs in the suit, filed in December 2020, accused the New York City Police Department of violating their constitutional rights and causing them injuries when, as an 8 p.m. curfew was set to go into effect that day, officers encircled protesters in a stretch of East 136th Street and then hit them with batons, pushed them with raised bicycles and doused them with pepper spray.

The incident was highlighted as an example of excessive use of force by police in an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed her own suit against the city of New York over its broader response to citywide protests against police brutality.  As part of the settlement, each qualifying class member who was seized during the mass arrest will receive $21,500.  Those who were issued a desk appearance ticket will be paid an additional $2,500.  Each of the five class representatives will receive an additional $21,500 payment.

The total attorney fees and costs Judge McMahon approved are 12% lower than the $2.55 million maximum amount that class attorneys said they would seek following the preliminary approval of the settlement in March.  The judge called the lower figure a substantial "discount" considering that, she said, the actual attorney fees were likely higher than the $2.55 million cap.

From an initial pool of 394 people identified as potential class members, 256 were eligible to file claims and 251 did.  Twenty-eight settled their claims elsewhere, and one was found not to be a class member, leaving 222 people with eligible claims — a response topping 86%.  In her order, Judge McMahon called that response "extraordinary" and said the deal provided "unprecedented per-person monetary awards."  "The positive response rate received in this case is magnitudes above the average for class action cases," the judge said.

Meta Class Counsel Lowers Fee Request Amid Judicial Criticism

November 6, 2023

A recent Law 360 story by Bonnie Eslinger, “Meta Tracking Class Lowers Atty Fee Bid After Judge Criticism”, reports that counsel for Facebook users took another shot at getting approval for the fees they'll receive from Meta's $37.5 million deal settling class claims that it tracked 70 million users' locations, dropping the request by $500,000 since the judge said their $9.3 million request is "not going to happen."  In a renewed motion for attorney fees and expenses filed, class counsel noted that while they initially asked for a 25% cut of the settlement, at the court's urging, they've reduced their request to 23.5%.

The request argues, however, that in light of class counsel's "tremendous effort" and "tremendous recovery" compared to similar class settlements, they shouldn't have to deviate from the one-quarter award that's usually considered a benchmark for such cases.  "But, to demonstrate their unflagging commitment to the interests of the class and their respect for the court, class counsel now request only 23.5% of the common fund," the motion states, later adding that the percentage calculates out to $8.8 million.  The five-year case was not easy to litigate, the plaintiffs' lawyers told the court.

Beyond the briefing to fight Meta's motions to dismiss in the case, "counsel faced a formidable opponent that resisted discovery at every turn," the motion states.  The lawyers for the class invested considerable time and effort to get the evidence they sought from Meta, which was represented by "two of the top defense firms in the world," Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and previously Munger Tolles & Olson LLP, the motion underscores.  Last month, the judge overseeing the case held off giving final approval to the deal, criticizing the 1.3% claims rate as too low and saying the $9.3 million attorney fee request is "just not going to happen."

In the revised attorney fee request, the lawyers for the class also addressed the court's concerns about the fact that time spent on a related case that was dismissed was included in the attorney fee calculation, that the fees of too many lawyers were included in the request, and that additional support was needed to justify counsel's hourly rates.

As to the first concern, class counsel said the two cases "were inextricably intertwined" as of December 2019, when the lawyers who filed each complaint agreed to work together and the cases were related for purposes of coordination.  A significant portion of the discovery requests were done by the lawyers in the dismissed case, the filing adds.  In addition, "numerous factual and legal theories developed" in the dismissed case were used in the case that settled, now before the court, the motion states.

However, in light of the court's comments at the hearing, class counsel told the court that it removed some of the hours specifically associated with the now-dismissed complaint, although it kept some of the time associated with the discovery.  With regard to the court's second concern about the billing including too many lawyers, the motion states that it removed all hours from the tab for attorneys who billed for under 40 hours of work.  The cuts resulted in 1,307 fewer hours and removed from the original fee motion, class counsel told the court.

In their motion, class counsel also argues that the $37.5 million deal is "substantial" and compares to similar data privacy settlements, for which the lawyers were given at least 25% of the fund.  The attorney fee request also highlights the fact that class counsel worked on a contingent basis.  "With no guarantee of recovering anything for their efforts, plaintiffs' counsel advanced 9,839.5 hours and $309,524.79 in expenses, while facing unusually heightened risks of no recovery, for over four years," the motion states.

The filing also argues to the court that class counsel's hourly rates are consistent with market rates.  Documents submitted to the court showed hourly rates for the highest paid lawyers at each class counsel firm that included $997 per hour for Sabita Soneji, a partner with Tycko & Zavareei LLP; $1,050 for Barrett Vahle, a partner with Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP; $1,000 for Franklin Azar of Azar Firm; and $940 for Ivy Ngo of the Law Office of Ivy T. Ngo.

Judge Rips Fee Request, Claims Rate in Meta Class Settlement

October 23, 2023

A recent Law 360 story by Bonnie Eslinger, “Judge Rips Claims Rate, Fee Bid in $37.5 Meta Tracking Deal”, reports that a California federal judge held off giving final approval to Meta Platforms Inc.'s $37.5 million deal to resolve claims it tracked 70 million users' locations, calling the 1.3% claims rate "overall a poor result" and saying the $9.3 million attorney fee request is "just not going to happen."  During the hearing in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge James Donato was told payouts are going to roughly 907,600 people out of an estimated 70 million possible claimants. He called the number "paltry."

The judge also took aim at the proposal to hand a 25% cut of the settlement — more than $9.3 million — to the plaintiffs' attorneys, saying the bill includes hours for too many attorneys.  "Right now, you want a $9 million chunk out of an already miniscule settlement, and that just strikes me as unfair to the class," the judge said.  He noted the plaintiffs are asking for fees for 66 people who worked on the case.

"I can't approve this," the judge said.  "I have had many, much larger cases, including my multidistrict litigation cases, which resulted in settlements that dwarf this one by hundreds of millions of dollars, and they had 12 people."  The plaintiffs also didn't provide enough support for their billable hour rates, $900 to $1,200 per hour, the judge said.  "The rates are at the high end where most of the work here was done," Judge Donato remarked.  "For some reason, [instead of] the less-expensive associate level."

The judge also said he needed more details about the reimbursement request for $322,464 in expenses.  He asked for more information about the administration fees, which, according to the plaintiffs, were now about $900,000, with another $300,000 bill expected to cover the cost of providing payments to the claimants.  The judge said the costs seemed high.  "I'm going to withhold approval until I see that," Judge Donato said. "I want a complete accounting."

$185M Fee Award in $725M Meta Privacy Class Settlement

October 13, 2023

A recent Law 360 story by Lauren Berg, “Facebook Users’ Attys Get $185M In $725M Meta Privacy Deal”, reports that counsel representing a class of more than 200 million Facebook users will take home nearly $181 million in fees and $4 million in costs after a California federal judge granted final approval to the $725 million deal resolving privacy claims over the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria put his final stamp of approval on the $725 million settlement that the preliminarily certified class reached with Meta Platforms Inc. in December.  Judge Chhabria also awarded class counsel $180.4 million in attorney fees, which equals 25% of the settlement fund, and almost $4 million in costs, according to the simultaneously filed orders.

The fee and costs take into account amounts previously awarded to class counsel as sanctions, according to the order, including in February when Meta and its attorneys at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP were ordered to pay $925,000 over their "unusually egregious and persistent" misconduct delaying discovery and gaslighting of opponents in seeking to extract a lower-priced settlement.

"The court does not take lightly the concern that a fee award equaling 25% of the settlement fund can be inappropriate in cases involving a massive monetary recovery for the class," Judge Chhabria said in the order.  "In many such cases, the 25% benchmark will be too high."  "As a result, the court has viewed the proposed fee award with greater skepticism, and less deference to the 25% benchmark, than in a typical case," he added.  "That said, the court finds that the attorneys' fee award is fair and reasonable under the percentage-of-the-recovery method."

The fee amount represents a 1.99 lodestar multiplier for roughly 150,000 hours of attorney work done over the past five years, which is below average in settlements of comparable size, the order states.  The judge said the settlement is a substantial portion of the maximum amount of damages the class could have recovered after trial and an appeal.  Novel legal issues and complicated facts, as well as Meta's resources and "aggressive approach to litigation," created a risk that the class would take home nothing — a risk shouldered by Bleichmar Fonti & Auld LLP and Keller Rohrback LLP, according to the order.  "The magnitude of the settlement fund is due more to the efforts of counsel than the size of the class," Judge Chhabria said.

The parties secured preliminary approval of the $725 million deal in March, before asking for final approval in July, in which the users touted the nearly 6% claims rate as "well above claims rates approved in other large settlements."  But objectors told the court later that month that the deal was overly broad and unfairly favorable to certain Facebook users.

Class members Stewart Harris and Ryan Cino argued that the likelihood that someone's data was compromised "almost certainly depends" on how many Facebook friends they had, which means users with fewer friends are getting just as much compensation despite having faced less risk.  And Sarah Feldman argued the settlement is too small, saying the potential damages in the case could be $6.25 billion.

At a final approval hearing in September, however, Judge Chhabria lauded the high rate of class participation, saying he was "blown away" that over 17.7 million valid claims have been submitted in what may be the largest response to a U.S. class action.  The judge granted final approval to the settlement, finding that more than 93% of the target audience of 253 million Americans had received notice of the settlement.  He also overruled the settlement's objectors.