As I have noted in a number of posts (most recently here), the size of securities class action settlements rose significantly in 2018 compared to recent years. But what do the 2018 securities class action settlements look like when broken down according to the lead plaintiffs’ firm involved in the settlement? That is the question answered in a recent report from ISS Securities Class Action Services. The April 3, 2019 report, entitled “The Top 50 of 2018” takes a look at the top 50 plaintiffs’ firms ranked by aggregate size and number of settlements can be found here.  


According to the report, there were 123 approved North American securities class action settlements involving the creation of a cash settlement fund. It is important to note that this North American settlement number expressly includes settlements in Canada as well as settlements in the United States. (The value of settlements in Canadian dollars was converted to U.S. dollars at the time of the settlements for this study’s ranking purposes.)


The U.S. settlements in the total figure are inclusive of settlements of both federal and state securities class action lawsuits during 2018. The total number of settlements reflects only settlements that resulted in the creation of a cash settlement fund. Non-monetary settlements are not included in the total. (Were the non-monetary settlements also included, the total number of settlements would be 136.)


The breakdown of the settlements according to type of allegation are as follows: 76 of the settled cases involved allegations of the employment of manipulative or deceptive practices; 33 involved allegation relating to merger transactions and insider trading; 26 of the cases involve alleged civil liabilities based on alleged false registration statements; 25 involved initial public offerings and public offerings; and 9 involved allegations pertaining to GAAP reporting. (The total number of alleged allegations exceeds the 123 total settlement number as some settlements involved cases including multiple allegations.)


In ranking the law firms involved in the settlements according to the value and number of settlements involved, the report credits a firm as listed lead or co-lead counsel for the entire settlement fund, regardless of how many other firms may also have been involved as co-lead in the case.  Using this methodology, there were two law firms whose total 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements exceeded $1 billion, and a total of 12 law firms whose total 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements exceeded $100 million.


According to the report’s ranking of the top 50 plaintiffs’ law firms according to the total size of the 2018 settlements in which the firms were involved as lead or co-lead counsel, the top firm is the Pomerantz law firm, with an aggregate total of $3.272 billion in settlements. This total was largely driven by the massive $3 billion settlement of the U.S. Petrobras securities case, which was by far the largest single securities class action settlement during 2018.


The law firm with the second largest highest amount of total 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements was the Bernstein, Litowitz law firm, with $1.351 billion in settlements. The Robbins Geller law firm ranked third in the total value of 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements, with a total of $549 million in settlements.


While it is interesting to look at the law firms at the top of the list of 2018 settlement totals, it is also interesting to scroll down to the bottom of the Top 50 list. It is pretty quickly apparent from looking at the bottom of the list that the magnitude of the aggregate recoveries involves thins out pretty dramatically the further down the list you look.


For example, at the bottom of this year’s list there were three law firms tied for number 49, each with a total of $5.5 million in 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements: the Eccleston Law Firm; the Law Office of Christopher J. Gray; and the law firm of Salas Wang. While most of the law firms listed in the top 25 are familiar, there are a number of firms that are unfamiliar (to me, at least) in the bottom 25.


In addition to ranking the plaintiffs’ law firms in terms of total value of settlements, the report also ranks the law firms according to the number of 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements.


The plaintiffs’ law firm with the highest number of 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements is once again the Pomerantz law firm with 20 settlements (which together with the total settlement information suggests that the Pomerantz firm was involved in one very large settlement – in the Petrobras case – and then nineteen other very small settlements).


The law firm with the second highest number of securities lawsuit settlements in2018 was the Robbins Geller law firm, which was involved in 17 securities class action lawsuit settlements. The Bernstein Litowitz firm had the third highest number of securities class action lawsuit settlements, with 15.


The Rosen Law Firm had the fourth highest number of 2018 settlement, with 14 (for a total settlement value of $58.583, suggesting again that the firm was involved in a number of smaller settlements). The Glancy, Prongay & Murray law firm had the fifth highest number of settlements, with a total of 12 settlements (for a total settlement value of $181.9 million).


As I noted above, the ISS Securities Class Action Services settlement data set includes data pertaining to Canadian settlements. In that regard, it is interesting to note that the Siskinds law firm, which is based in Ontario, is listed in 11th place on the amount recovered list, with total 2018 shareholder settlements of $113.1 million. The Siskinds law firm did not make the top ten on the number of settlements list (the report lists only the top ten).


As I have noted in prior years, this year’s ISS report does not include a ranking or listing of the firms according to their fees recovered. Without going back and pulling the relevant specific information from settlement documents and court records, attempting to assess fees recovered is a bit of a speculative exercise. However, applying an average of approximately 20 percent of settlement amounts as an estimate of fees recovered suggests that several of the very top firms had excellent years in 2018.  (Any assessment of any one firm’s fee recoveries would also have to take into account that in a certain number of cases there were co-lead counsel involved and so fees were shared on some basis between the firms involved.)