Offering Woolsey Fire Victims and the Malibu Community Resources and Information They Need to Rebuild Fire Safe Homes in a Fire Safe Community
Woolsey Fire Litigation Update
THE OPERATION RECOVERY “LAWYER PROJECT” PRODUCES TANGIBLE BENEFITS FOR THE WOOLSEY FIRE COMMUNITY REDUCING CONTINGENCY FEES
Operation Recovery the grass roots organization created to bring together community members affected by the Woolsey Fire has developed the “Lawyer Project” to inform and organize members of the community, assisting them in identifying and retaining the best lawyers on the best terms in potential litigation against Southern California Edison (“SCE”) and any other party allegedly responsible for the catastrophic destruction caused by the Woolsey Fire.
In the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire, residents of Malibu and adjacent communities were besieged by lawyers soliciting clients for contingent fee litigation against SCE. These solicitations came in many flavors. In order to combat some of the more egregious and heavy-handed solicitation efforts, Operation Recovery developed the “Lawyer Project”. After more than two months of inquires and research, Operation Recovery held a public meeting at the Malibu Library on February 10, at which a handful of lawyers explained the legal landscape for potential litigation against SCE on a contingent fee basis.
The Lawyer Project meeting was recorded and live streamed on Facebook, and a copy of the video can be viewed at the following location:
https://www.facebook.com/bruce.silverstein.7/posts/2653376581369303. Before Operation Recovery commenced the Lawyer Project practically every lawyer in the area was demanding a contingent fee of in the range of 33.3% to 40% of any recovery from SCE as the price of representation. As a result of the informational headwinds created by the Lawyer Project, most (but not all) lawyers throughout the area found it necessary to reduce their contingent fees to a “new normal” of 25% Some lawyers reduced their fees early in the process and others held off for many months. In the end, however, most lawyers seeking to represent community members in this arena reluctantly reduced their contingent fees to remain competitive.
A handful of law firms agreed with Operation Recovery to further reduce their contingent fees for clients who retain those firms as a result of the work of Operation Recovery. Specifically, those law firms agreed, in writing, to represent clients who reference Operation Recovery or otherwise retain them because of the work of Operation Recovery on the following terms:
1. Any and all clients who reference Operation Recovery or otherwise retain them because of the work of Operation Recovery will be represented on the basis of no more than a 25% contingent fee, which shall not be upwardly adjusted for any reason.
2. If they are engaged by owners and/or renters of at least 25 properties who reference Operation Recovery or otherwise retain them because of the work of Operation Recovery, the contingent rate shall be reduced to 24% for all clients retained hereafter.
3. If they are engaged by owners and/or renters of at least 25 properties who reference Operation Recovery or otherwise retain them because of the work of Operation Recovery, the contingent rate shall be reduced to 22.5% for all clients retained hereafter.
4. If they are engaged by owners and/or renters of at least 25 properties who reference Operation Recovery or otherwise retain them because of the work of Operation Recovery, the contingent rate shall be reduced to 21% for all clients retained here after
Members of the Steering Committee of Operation Recovery have been told that these rates are unprecedented in wildfire litigation, and they are the direct result of the work of Operation Recovery.
In addition to the reduced contingent fees, the law firms that made presentations at the Lawyer Project meeting all agreed that their contingent fees to Operation Recovery clients shall be “net” of costs, such that the percentage will be applied to the amount of the recovery after deducting any costs owed by a client. These law firms also agreed that costs shall be limited to “out of pocket” expenses paid to third parties, and shall not include any aspect of overhead, marketing, or other expenses of conducting the business of being a lawyer. Finally, these law firms all agreed with Operation Recovery that no client shall have any financial obligation for costs or fees unless there is a recovery and no client’s costs and fees shall exceed such client’s actual recovery.
Separate from the economic terms of the engagement, the law firms that made presentations at the Lawyer Project meeting all confirmed in writing their express agreement that any client of any of the firms shall have the right, under California law, to withdraw from the representation if they should elect to do so at any time – subject only to a lien on any recovery for the fair value of any work performed for such client prior to the time of any such withdrawal.
At this time, it appears that the largest number of members of the community who have retained a law firm as a result of the work of Operation Recovery have elected to retain the “combination” of:
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP (“QE”) and Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack (“ELL”), which are working together as co-counsel on behalf of community members whose property was destroyed or damaged by the Woolsey Fire.
More than 25 new clients already have hired QE and ELL as a result of the Operation Recovery Lawyer Project, which has caused the contingent fee for such clients to be reduced to 24 percent. At this time, QE and ELL are making toward hitting the 50 new client mark, which will further reduce the contingent fee to 22.5 percent. If a sufficient number of additional clients hire QE and ELL as a result of the work of Operation Recovery, the contingent fee will drop to 21 percent.
A lesser (but not insubstantial) number of community members has elected to engage The “Panish Group” consisting of Panish Shea & Boyle, LLP, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, and Dreyer, Babich, Buccola, Wood, Campora LLP, and a still lesser number of community members have elected to engage Blum Collins LLC. Accordingly, it is possible that contingency fee rates below 25 percent may be achieved by clients who retain one or the other of these firms as a result of the work of Operation Recovery.
Recovery Programs Upcoming and On Going
City of Malibu & Fire Department Rebuilding Consultations – City Hall – Tuesdays & Thursdays 8AM – 12
The Fire Rebuild Counter is open every day to assist residents with any questions related to rebuilding their homes, cleaning up their property, placing temporary structures, and more. An L.A. County Fire Department official is stationed at City Hall every Tuesday and Thursday, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM to offer specific guidance on Fire Department requirements for rebuilding. The City has hired additional professional contract staff to support the Planning, Public Works and Building Safety Department rebuilding activities.
Resiliency Strategies for Malibu’s Built Environment Building Technologies and Preparing for the Future
PRESENTED BY CITY OF MALIBU, THE US RESILIENCY COUNCIL AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT OF THE SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS
Third in the Resilient Malibu Workshop Series, this event offers an opportunity to learn how to build better performing buildings in natural disasters from building design and landscape experts.
Fire Rebuilding & Home building Workshop
How to Build Faster & Smarter through Prefabrication
Real estate agents, architects, contractors, all those advising wildfire victims, and anyone wishing to build a home or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is encouraged to attend. Free and open to the public! Join us to learn how Plant Prefab’s modern approach to construction makes it possible to build any home (in any size or style) or ADU dramatically faster, less expensively, and more sustainable utilizing prefabrication. 2-2:45 Malibu Public Library
JUNE 15 – SAVE THE DATE!
FIRE/DISASTER SAFETY EXPO
INFORMATION PANELS, PREPARATION, PRODUCTS, SAMPLES AND SERVICES TO HELP BUILD SAFER HOMES IN A SAFER COMMUNITY. TRANCAS
City of Malibu / County Rebuilding Workshops Available On Line
JOIN US! Operation Recovery is an independent, all-volunteer community project sponsored by the Malibu Dolphin Charitable Foundation. We welcome the participation of other like-minded groups and individuals to help us meet the needs of Malibu residents affected by the Woolsey fire. For information call Karen York, 310-456-5507 ext. 117