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gavel money Natalia Merzlyakova – Fotolia

I recently addressed how the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Pinto v. Spectrum Chems. and Laboratory Prods., 985 A.2d 1239 (2010), both (i) left open the question of what a public interest law firm is, and (ii) provides an opportunity for private public interest law firms to do well by doing good. In Pinto, a unanimous court held that public interest lawyers and defendants may simultaneously negotiate a case’s merits and attorney fees when attempting to settle claims under fee-shifting statutes. However, the court held that when such cases involve a public interest law firm, defendants may not insist on a fee waiver.

A second open question after Pinto—one which to date has not been formally addressed by a New Jersey court—is whether plaintiffs’ counsel must avoid such “bundled” settlement offers as an ethical matter because they result in a conflict between the lawyer’s interests and the client’s, in violation of New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7.

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