The Seventh Circuit held last week that "gross amount recovered" in a contingent fee contract didn't include money the client got before hiring the lawyer. In re Solis, No. 09-4075 (7th Cir. July 6, 2010) (applying Illinois law).
The ruling turned on the principle that "Illinois construes attorney contingent fee agreements strictly in favor of clients in order to protect them from unscrupulous attorneys who might manipulate the agreement terms in their favor." Id. slip op. at 5.
The problem, alert readers will note, arose from the use of the imperfect past participle (a cousin of passive voice) in "recovered". "Recovered" when, you ask? "Recovered" through whose efforts? For what? By whom?
The fee agreement didn't say. And so the money that the client kept in his pocket as a result of the lawyer's successful efforts to defeat claims against the funds didn't count.