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Plaintiffs firms still reaping rewards from M&A lawsuits

Lawyers collect big legal fees while shareholders often receive nothing

The increase in M&A deal lawsuits—in which shareholders claim proposed transactions between companies are unfair in disclosure or pricing—isn’t letting up. According to the legal research firm Cornerstone Research, M&A class actions are the fastest-growing type of securities litigation, with shareholders having challenged 91 percent of deals greater than $100 million that were announced in 2010 and 2011.

Despite the fact that many judges and lawyers are critical of the fact that plaintiffs firms financially benefit more than shareholders from such suits, plaintiffs lawyers continue to collect big rewards.

Bloomberg reports that out of 57 such shareholder class action lawsuits settled or otherwise ended in the Delaware Chancery Court in the past two years, 70 percent made money for plaintiffs lawyers but not shareholders. The legal fees awarded in these cases amounted to $32.4 million, with the lowest award at $150,000 and the highest at $4 million.

Meanwhile, shareholders netted $350 million through the 17 suits that yielded rewards for them. But they don’t get to keep all of the money. In the case that produced the largest plaintiffs award—$89.4 million—plaintiffs lawyers were paid $22.3 million from that sum.

“The overwhelming—overwhelming—majority of these cases do not result in any substantive benefit for shareholders,” Jim Woolery, co-head of North American mergers and acquisitions for JPMorgan Chase & Co. and former senior partner at Cravath, told Bloomberg.

Read Bloomberg to learn more about the criticism surrounding plaintiffs firms’ earnings from M&A lawsuits.

Ashley Post

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