Someone did me a big favor a while ago, and they bragged in legal documents about how it took them “seven years of hard work and diligent efforts.”

I will tell you about those diligent efforts and the outcome, in their own words.

This “tremendous” effort produced an “extraordinary” outcome, particularly in “substantial” and “meaningful” results for me, particularly in the areas of “economic” and “monetary” gain.

I will pause here for a moment to let you ponder what an extraordinary, tremendously substantial and meaningful economic and monetary gain would mean to you. Can you put a number on it? How many zeroes would it take for you to define something as an “extraordinary, tremendously substantial and meaningful economic and monetary gain?”

For that particular person who was writing about me, the “favorable” outcome they provided to me, that “extraordinary, tremendously substantial and meaningful economic and monetary gain” means: $1.

Yup.

One Dollar.

A buck. One hundred pennies. Eight bits. The difference between a Dairy Queen lunch with a sundae and a Dairy Queen lunch with a small strawberry-dipped Ghirardelli chocolate and white chocolate Blizzard.

$1. Ten dimes. 20 nickels.

A dollar.

Nope. They were not kidding.

Nope. I am not making this up.

Someone really wrote that their “seven years of hard work and diligent efforts” produced the “extraordinary, tremendously substantial and meaningful economic and monetary gain” that I mentioned above.

That person is a lawyer, one of many lawyers who was involved in a recent class action legal settlement involving Wells Fargo.

Here’s what happened: When Wells Fargo customers got behind on their mortgage payments (this happened to us, once, in 2010, when we were about 2 weeks late with our payment), the bank would send and “inspector” to the house. Basically, they sent someone to drive past the house to make sure it was “secure.” For this service, they billed the affected customer around $100.

It was a dumb move by the bank. I am not sure what paying someone to look at a house accomplishes.

Someone else thought that was a dumb move, and they called a lawyer. Pretty soon those lawyers were calling lots of lawyers all over the country, and a class-action legal action was under way.

A class-action suit is basically one where the lawyers claim that their plaintiff represents thousands (or more) other people who were similarly wronged by.. someone.

The outcome of this case, commonly called the Wells Fargo Property Inspection Settlement, was typical for class action lawsuits. The lawyers involved in this case got millions – $10 million or more according to what I can find in the court records.

The members of the class, including me got: $1. In legal terms, it is my “pro-rata share.”

The lawyer mentioned above, Deborah Clark-Weintraub of the Scott & Scott law firm of New York City, wrote the “tremendous effort” which provided me that extraordinarily meaningful and substantial reward of $1, in a legal brief called a “memo in support of fees,” which explained to the judge why the lawyers who got me $1 should get $10 million. You can read the whole thing HERE.

And because this case happened under laws made by a Congress, where more than half of the members are or have been lawyers, it was all totally legal. So, after reading Ms. Clark-Weintraub’s brief, the judge approved the millions for the lawyers who got me $1.

I sent an email to Ms. Clark-Wientraub, asking if she really thought that $1 was a meaningful, extraordinary and substantial number.

She did not reply. As my favorite columnist, Mike Royko, once wrote: “If I did something that goofy, I would not want to talk about it either.”

Instead, Ms. C-W forwarded my question to the company called Garden City Group, which often gets hired to print and mail millions of $1 checks.

Someone from there called me and listened to me explain what I had read. All that person, who only gave me his first name, would say was: “When lawyers get involved, it’s “interesting,”

Like almost everything that ends up getting abused, the process of class-action lawsuits began for a good reason — addressing multiple victims of one wrong-doer. And they became common in the U.S. in the 1960s for another very legitimate reason: Enforcing civil rights laws.

Class-action lawsuits have been around since the 1200s in England, but have become much more common in the U.S. since changes in court rules made in 1966. Class action suits also allow the government to help stop those who fraudulently advertise. For a real legal definition and history of class-action suits from Cornell Law School, click HERE.

However, soon it became clear to some trial lawyers that there were loopholes in the class-action laws that made those kind of lawsuits very, very lucrative.

The result in the Wells Fargo case is quite typical. In fact, the check I received is $1 more than most class action “members” receive. While it is all totally legal, I still smell a pro-rata.

Many others smell it, too. 

In one case reported on the Cato blog, the members of the class received nothing, while non-profit organizations whose leaders were friends of the lawyers involved received big checks.

There’s a very simple legislative solution, although Congress, with roughly half of its members involved in some sort of legal profession, is unlikely to adopt it: Simply limit legal fees to a percentage of what the members in a class-action suit receive, rather than paying the lawyers first. So instead of 33 percent of the $25 million in this Wells Fargo settlement, the lawyers would get 1/3 of what I, plus all the other class members received. 

Sounds fair to me.

After all, a class-action suit is about the members of the class and not the lawyers, right?