Consider damages-based legal billing in limited cases

Yesterday's report ("Misconduct case against lawyer before apex court") once again surfaces the controversial issue of whether lawyers should charge contingency fees - where a cut of any damages awarded in a suit are paid to the lawyer instead of a legal fee.

Contingency fees are prohibited in Singapore.

Perhaps the authorities are apprehensive that the implementation of such fees would prompt lawyers to explore cases towards the margin of merit and create an unsavoury litigious environment here.

Contingency fees may create a risk of lawyers prioritising claims for their own financial interests rather than their clients'.

In some jurisdictions, however, contingency fees are common in personal injury and tort cases.

Such fees give the injured party the chance to recover damages for their injuries without having to pay the lawyer's fees upfront. If the injured person receives damages, he pays the lawyer a percentage of the money.

Lawyers are generally prohibited from offering contingency agreements in criminal defence cases. A criminal lawyer is expected to fight tooth and nail to protect his client's interests to the best of his ability.

Perhaps we should relook our legal system and allow damages-based billing in personal injury cases with a cap of, say, 30 per cent of the amount awarded.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'Consider damages-based legal billing in limited cases'. Print Edition | Subscribe