This is a charge that the Perry campaign, through spokesman Mark Miner, has leveled at White. It seemed dubious to me, because contingency fees have been used by plaintiffs’ lawyers since long before Bill White was practicing law. Contingency fees are used in personal injury cases when a client cannot afford to hire an attorney. The arrangement usually calls for a stipulated division of the award in a case between the lawyer and the client. If the plaintiff loses, the client pays nothing and the lawyer gets nothing. I e-mailed Miner to ask on what grounds he based the claim that White pioneered contingency fees. This was the response from the Perry campaign: Here are excerpts from three articles that show Bill White’s relationship with the pioneering of contingency fees. (Full articles are included below the excerpts.) [Note to readers: Rather than publish the full articles, I will provide links to them.] EXCERPT #1 from “Is This Guy Too Smart to Be Mayor?” Houston Press, 10/30/09 At that time in the mid-’70s, Steve Susman had left Fulbright & Jaworski to teach at UT law school. While in Austin, he began sketching out the framework for what would become a plaintiffs’ public issue law firm with a revolutionary concept: contingency fee basis. To make any money, the lawyers would have to win their cases. Susman began recruiting aggressive young attorneys willing to gamble their skills in exchange for rapid advancement. White was the sixth lawyer recruited and quickly rose to star status. White characterizes his decision to come to Houston as an exercise in idealism and serving the victimized, a position that draws a chuckle from Susman. “Please, give me a break. Bill loves a challenge. He’s very competitive, obviously, and being on the plaintiffs’ side of the docket in these cases you have to be competitive and entrepreneurial, ’cause if you don’t win, you don’t get paid. “It’s very risky and he’s a risk taker.” White admits the prospect of rapid advancement was alluring. “I did it because Steve Susman made a commitment to me that what I could do in the courtroom, what I could do in handling cases and financially, would be dependent entirely on just how successful I was.” EXCERPT #2 from “White’s career incorporates law, business and government,” Austin American-Statesman, 2/3/10 White got his first taste of management early. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1979, made partner at fast-growing Susman Godfrey in three years and joined the Houston firm’s three-member management committee in 1984. Susman Godfrey was experimenting with the then-unusual practice of accepting commercial litigation on contingency. For its lawyers to get paid, they had to win their cases – and one of White’s essential jobs was evaluating the strength of incoming cases. “It takes a different kind of risk tolerance, and it suited Bill very well, because Bill was always willing to bet on himself,” said Neal Manne, a Susman Godfrey partner. “He was obviously playing at a different level, even at his very young age.” EXCERPT #3 from “Bill White Taps Business Ties In Bid For Governor,” Associated Press, 2/18/10 After graduating in 1979, White joined Susman Godfrey, which helped pioneer and expand the use of get-paid-if-you-win contingency fees. The arrangement was a good fit for White, who soon made partner. By the time he left in the early 1990s, he was making more than $1 million a year. * * * * I appreciate the information that the Perry campaign provided. It demonstrates that White was very successful participant in a law firm that pioneered the use of contingency fees in business vs. business litigation. However, it is clear from the first excerpt that the idea of using contingency fees in commercial litigation was Susman’s, not White’s. Susman was the pioneer. I think the claim that White pioneered contingency fees is an overreach. It would be more accurate to say that White was a partner in a law firm that pioneered the use of contingency fees in commercial litigation. There’s a big difference between commercial litigation and personal injury litigation. In commercial litigation, both sides enjoy wealth and power. White wasn’t chasing ambulances.
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