“In other words, Mr. Frank says he is trying to change the law through his lawyering.”

October 30th, 2011

My friend Ted Frank has this great profile about him in WSJ. Ted has taken an interesting approach to challenging class actions settlements that screw over plaintiffs and give bounties to plaintiff lawyers.

There are two types of class-action lawyers: those who bring the big lawsuits against corporate America, and those who defend them.

And then there’s Ted Frank.

Mr. Frank is a relative newcomer to the burgeoning world of class-action objectors. Objectors are lawyers who swoop in at the 11th hour and make formal objections to settlements hammered out between corporate defendants and “classes” of individuals who have alleged that a company has defrauded its investors or created a product that injured consumers.

Many objectors’ aims are simple. They want to get more money for a small subset of the class unhappy with a settlement’s proposed terms. So they’ll typically drop their complaints if the lead class attorneys agree to cut them—and their clients—a bigger slice of the settlement.

Not Mr. Frank, who has emerged as a rare breed in the world of class-action objectors because he tends to stay and fight settlements to the end, rather than cut quick deals. His stated mission is different, too. He says it’s to right the wrongs of the class-action system by upending settlements that he thinks give class members too little and give the plaintiffs’ lawyers too much.

But what is Ted’s motivation?

Mr. Frank considers that case his most significant win largely because the Ninth Circuit issued a lengthy opinion that will serve as “precedent” that lower courts in the western U.S will have to follow. “This is why we’re doing this,” he said. “To generate opinions that have leverage beyond individual cases.”

In other words, Mr. Frank says he is trying to change the law through his lawyering.

Some supporters think he’s doing just that: effectively serving as a watch-dog over the class-action system, a role that Congress and the courts have for too long neglected.

“The fact is that he’s been able to persuade courts to finally look seriously at issues that they used to completely ignore,” said Lester Brickman, an expert on class-action litigation and a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

Others are less supportive. “I’m not sure anyone really believes he’s in it for the reason he states—that he cares about consumers,” said James Sabella, a plaintiffs’ lawyer currently defending the Sirius XM settlement over Mr. Frank’s objections. “He wants class actions to go away entirely.”

But without class actions, said Mr. Sabella, corporate America will get a “free pass on a lot of questionable behavior.”

You may recall that Ted Frank bet on Walmart’s stock going up following the decision in Wal-mart v. Dukes and coined Ted Frank’s law–don’t name any law ater a victim.