Texas ethical rules require that lawyers not charge a client an "unconscionable" fee. There is no precise definition of "unconscionable," but it does mean really, really high fees. A lawyer in West Texas was paid millions of dollars by wrongly convicted inmates. The wrongly convicted inmates receive $80,000 per year in state compensation for every year they were wrongly incarcerated. Texas has lead the nation in releasing wrongly convicted inmates. Kevin Glasheen has represented a dozen of them. In fact, Mr. Glasheen successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to raise the amount paid to inmates from $50,000 to $80,000 per year. See San Antonio Express News report.
Mr. Glasheen charged the exonerated inmates 25% of their recovery. In one case, he spent some 40 hours on the case and filled out a one page form to the secure the release of an exoneree. For that case, Mr. Glashen was paid $4.36/second. That works out to $15969/hour. Top paid lawyers in Houston and Dallas are paid perhaps $1000/hour. So, Mr. Glasheen is well-paid indeed. He has also been able to accomplish what few lawyers could do: he was able to lobby the entity that pays these fees to increase the compensation paid to his clients.
The Texas Bar Association sought disciplinary action against Mr. Glasheen. The action went all the way to trial in Amarillo, Texas. A state district judge found Mr. Glasheen’s fees not to be excessive. She commented that it seemed like a simple case at first, but it is not. The state bar says they will appeal the finding.
I do not do malpractice law, so cannot comment regarding the definition of "unconscionable." But, $15969 per hour is pretty darn high. I understand that lawyers accepting cases on contingency incur substantial risk. The state bar prosecutor said the case against Mr. Glasheen was never about disbarment. He was seeking a letter of reprimand, or suspension of his license or probation. The whole point of having mandatory membership in bar associations is to avoid the abuses we saw in the 19th century, when persons claiming to be lawyers routinely bilked an unsuspecting public. Is Mr. Glasheen possibly taking advantage of a clientele with few options? if so, the judge found that he did not bilk anyone.
There should not be anymore cases like this. According to the San Antonio Express News report, the state legislature passed a law in 2011 that attorneys would be paid by the hour, not based on percentage.