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Gulf oil spill: Volunteer lawyers reach out to Vietnamese community

Thoa-Thi Ta, 56, drove 2 ½ hours from Opelousas, La., to Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in the Village de L’est area of New Orleans on Sunday to get free advice from a Vietnamese-speaking lawyer about her family’s BP claims.

Last spring, her husband bought a $30,000 shrimping boat. They loaned it to her brother, fishing captain Doan Xuan Ta, 55, until the oil spill, because he had lost his car, house and everything he owned in Hurricane Katrina.

After the spill, Ta and her brother met a Vietnamese lawyer from Houston at a local restaurant who promised to help them file claims for damages with BP. The former refugees, who come from a fishing family in Phuoc Tinh, Vietnam, signed the paperwork in early May, desperate for help.

On Sunday, a volunteer lawyer from Oakland explained to them in Vietnamese what they had signed: a retainer granting their new lawyer 40% of any money they receive from BP.

“Of course I did not understand. But because she’s Vietnamese, we trust each other,” Thoa-Thi Ta said in Vietnamese as a lawyer translated and her brother looked on. “She said she would give us money.”

Volunteer lawyers at the afternoon clinic said such legal problems have become commonplace among Vietnamese immigrants in the gulf. Private lawyers have descended on the area, one of the first neighborhoods to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and home to a cadre of Vietnamese fishermen and seafood workers. Many in the Vietnamese community signed up with those lawyers, and are only now beginning to question the agreements.


“People here are different from the Vietnamese immigrants in California,” said Thuy Nguyen, who grew up in the neighborhood and now works in Oakland. "They’re so innocent. They will sign up with anyone.”

Nguyen’s group billed itself as the first bilingual legal clinic to come to the gulf since the spill.

The19 lawyers and 10 law students from California and five other states  had expected to advise hundreds. Instead, they saw about 50 people during stops in New Orleans; Biloxi, Miss.; and Bayou La Batre, Ala.

“I didn’t realize when I came down that they are fearful of attorneys,” said Mai Phan, a graduate of Tulane University and Loyola Law School now based in San Jose.

Many of the immigrants she saw felt they had been burned by lawyers -- many of whom were from California, Texas and New York --  who signed them up as clients and then disappeared.

Nguyen said it is not yet clear whether the problems result from predatory lawyers or from the fishermen’s inexperience with legal matters. Either way, she said, the community’s fear of lawyers has become a barrier to assisting them as they seek compensation from BP.

When Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.) stopped by to see the clinic last week, he said the legal volunteers may have come too late, since so many like the Tas had already retained private lawyers.

But Nguyen refused to give up. Before Mass on Sunday, she posted signs outside the church saying, “We do not want to represent you or take your money,” and, “No signing up with lawyers. No private info requested.”

At the end of the 11:15 a.m. Mass, she joined the Rev. Vien The Nguyen at the front of the church and attempted to assuage the congregation’s fears. She told them that she used to live in the area, that she attended Vietnamese Bible school and that her father’s name is on a plaque at the church.

“I had to really reassure them,” Thuy Nguyen said.

A few fishermen and their wives trickled in. One woman asked how much she would have to pay. Some brought paperwork, which the lawyers helped them decipher, referring them to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a local legal aid group, for further assistance.

By late afternoon, many of the lawyers were frustrated.

Ann Nguyen, vice president of the Vietnamese American Bar Assn. of Northern California, grew up near here, shucking oysters and peeling shrimp during the summer for spare cash. The oil spill may be ending that way of life, she said, and many of the immigrant seafood workers she sees do not yet realize it. That could hurt them as they attempt to file claims for damages with BP, since they are likely to underestimate the toll the spill will take on their families.

Some fishermen left Mass asking the priest when they would be able to get back to work.

“I just talked to an oyster shucker; she’s been doing it since 1982, since I was born,” Ann Nguyen said. “I don’t think she understands what’s happening.”

Nguyen also reviewed the Tas’ paperwork. She and another lawyer offered as much advice as they could before they had to close and fly home Sunday.

"I told them I know you're stressed, but don't just sign anything," said May Nguyen, Thuy Nguyen's sister and a UCLA law student.

Thuy Nguyen said that in coming weeks, the lawyers plan to report what they saw during the clinic and recommend possible regulations or oversight to the White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

-- Molly Hennessey-Fiske, in New Orleans

 
Comments () | Archives (11)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Why not go ahead and capture as much oil as possible while it has stopped leaking and that would thereby reduce the pressure on the well at the same time. It would also tell us how much oil was really leaking to begin with and it would give B.P. some extra income to pay out in restitution.
Bobby B.

We, the Vietnamese American Fisherman and Oil Spill Victims, formed our group which consists of over 500 members of fishermen and oil spill victims in Louisiana Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. With the help and advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Priest and Pastors from Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Monks from Buddhist temples) in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and California, we have organized ourselves into this well led group.

We are deeply grateful to numerous religious and community leaders who have been with us since the first day of the tragedy. They have spent endless hours to quietly assist the victims. They have prayed with and for us daily and have always been with us when we weep and fear for our future. From their unconditional love, we found God and know that He is in control.


Viet Am Volunteer Law Corps’ current efforts in light of the BP Oil Spill is very laudable, and we in the public deeply appreciate its noble intent and dedication. But the Law Corps’ recent public pronouncements—in numerous news articles which interviewed its members—unfortunately indicate some significant misunderstandings about the needs of the BP Oil Spill victims, their relationship with their attorneys, and the complexity of the challenges ahead. We therefore wish to correct a few points in the record so that we, the community as a whole, may all work together, in a spirit of cooperation rather than unwarranted suspicion, and guide our community through this difficult time.

First: it is contended that many victims signed contracts with lawyers that they did not understand. The fact is that virtually all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys met and retained the most reputable Vietnamese translators, as well as ethics experts, to draft and review their fee agreements. The fee agreements were thus written in Vietnamese, not in English. The lawyers also discussed the fee agreements with the potential clients prior to execution, and many had independent third parties explain the fee agreements with the victims in the presence of others. It is also worth noting that, despite the seeming characterization of the victims as being simple-minded, unquestioning immigrants, the truth is that these Vietnamese-American fishermen have shown themselves to be savvy businessmen and American citizens who have taken an active role with their attorneys in the Oil Spill Litigation. They may work on boats and their English may carry a slight accent, but that is absolutely no reason to underestimate their intelligence and sophistication. (In fact they have to be U.S. citizens in order to own shrimp vessels.)

These fishermen have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Buddhist temples) across the country, not just only in Louisiana. In fact, one needs to fully understand the Vietnamese politics in Louisiana and Texas in order to appreciate the meaning of true leadership which is completely misunderstood by the main stream media. In Louisiana alone, there are three groups currently claiming leadership among the Vietnamese fishermen. Presently, the biggest group is led by a number of young Catholic Priests, Baptist Pastors, Buddhist Monks, and many fishermen and their adult children who are very well educated and sophisticated.

Second: it is contended that 40% as the contingent fee is unreasonable. We believe this is a misunderstanding by the Law Corps. The fact is that, in mass tort litigation such as the Deepwater Horizon matter where so much in resources is required to prosecute claims, clients simply do not have the financial ability to pay for the necessary lawyers and experts by the hour. Contingent fees thus allow for victims—who are already suffering financial hardship—to prosecute their claims at virtually no risk to themselves or their families. It is within this context that law firms in mass tort cases routinely charge 40% as the contingent fee, in exchange for the risk that they are bearing. All that said, the important fact to know here is that, as of mid-May—long before the Volunteer Law Corps even arrived in the Gulf—many lawyers in the plaintiffs’ bar had already reduced their fees to 33% or even 25% in writing due to the particular facts of this case. Allegations of a 40% contingent fee is simply unwarranted here.

Third: as a related matter, it has been contended that there exist “retainer agreements with attorney fees as high as 60%.” The fact is that any retainer agreement with such a high percentage would be deemed unconscionable and thus void as a matter of law. Currently, we are not aware of a single lawyer charging 60% or 50%. Indeed, as discussed above, the typical fee contracts of 40% have been voluntarily reduced in writing by almost all plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Fourth: it is contended that the plaintiffs’ lawyers will take any money the victims receive from BP. The fact is that, as early as mid-May—before the Volunteer Law Corps arrived in the Gulf—many attorneys requested the BP Oil Claim adjusters to make all interim checks payable to, and send these checks directly to, the victims. This fact is recorded in court hearings and various legal documents and correspondence filed with BP. As a result, at this time, virtually no plaintiffs’ lawyers have either charged or received any legal fees on these BP interim payments. Given the clarity of the record on this point, we do not understand the reasons for any allegations to the contrary.

Lastly: the BP Oil Spill is an immense catastrophe that goes beyond parish and state borders. This is a national problem, unlike any our country has ever faced before. Helping the people injured by BP’s actions will take a large team of dedicated professionals who are armed with the expertise, experience, and resources to help those who need it. It is certainly understandable for communities that have suffered mistreatment and exploitation in the past always to be wary. But unwarranted wariness should not come at the price of progress, and it should not put community members at risk in division and litigation where the lives of so many families and individuals are at stake. Our sincere hope is that parochialism and misplaced suspicion will not hinder our shared goal of helping the hurting Vietnamese community in this time of crisis.


The BP Oil Spill is a huge tragedy that destroyed many lives and as a community, we must try to build it together. Instead of going to the press to portray the Vietnamese fishermen as “illiterate”* and “tax evading people,”** and attacking others without checking facts, the Vietnamese American Volunteer Law Corps needs to research and verify information, and correct the incorrect facts. Our sincere hope is that the White Paper will contain accurate, reliable information with answers from all groups and all churches and all faiths. In Louisiana there are numerous churches and groups of fishermen: to cite a few, the convents and churches in New Orleans, Houma, Morgan, New Iberia, Abbeville with Vietnamese fishermen who have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths. There are groups of fishermen who are Baptists and Buddhists.
In fact, the Vietnamese American Fisherman and Oil Spill Victims intend to file The Fishermen Paper to correct the misinformation and wrong assumptions, if any. That the Vietnamese American Volunteer Law Corps was formed at the request of the Mississippi Center for Justice, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Legal Services of Alabama, and Congressman Cao should make it and its members be more prudent and careful about what is said and what is written. Your mission can only be accomplished if it includes all voices; and if it contains accurate, reliable information obtained from unbiased sources and all faiths and free from any Political Agenda. Your mission can only be accomplished if it inclusive, and not exclusive.

*(“Some of these fishermen are illiterate and many don’t speak English…”*)

See the issues that the White Paper plans to raise --with implication that Vietnamese fishermen do not declare income tax. The fact is: virtually 95% of Vietnamse boat owners, captains, and deckhands and business victims have very proper tax documents. This stereo type needs to be corrected.

Posted by: Paul Le | July 18, 2010 at 08:19 AM

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We, the Vietnamese American Fisherman and Oil Spill Victims, formed our group which consists of over 500 members of fishermen and oil spill victims in Louisiana Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. With the help and advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Priest and Pastors from Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Monks from Buddhist temples) in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and California, we have organized ourselves into this well led group.

We are deeply grateful to numerous religious and community leaders who have been with us since the first day of the tragedy. They have spent endless hours to quietly assist the victims. They have prayed with and for us daily and have always been with us when we weep and fear for our future. From their unconditional love, we found God and know that He is in control.


Viet Am Volunteer Law Corps’ current efforts in light of the BP Oil Spill is very laudable, and we in the public deeply appreciate its noble intent and dedication. But the Law Corps’ recent public pronouncements—in numerous news articles which interviewed its members—unfortunately indicate some significant misunderstandings about the needs of the BP Oil Spill victims, their relationship with their attorneys, and the complexity of the challenges ahead. We therefore wish to correct a few points in the record so that we, the community as a whole, may all work together, in a spirit of cooperation rather than unwarranted suspicion, and guide our community through this difficult time.

First: it is contended that many victims signed contracts with lawyers that they did not understand. The fact is that virtually all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys met and retained the most reputable Vietnamese translators, as well as ethics experts, to draft and review their fee agreements. The fee agreements were thus written in Vietnamese, not in English. The lawyers also discussed the fee agreements with the potential clients prior to execution, and many had independent third parties explain the fee agreements with the victims in the presence of others. It is also worth noting that, despite the seeming characterization of the victims as being simple-minded, unquestioning immigrants, the truth is that these Vietnamese-American fishermen have shown themselves to be savvy businessmen and American citizens who have taken an active role with their attorneys in the Oil Spill Litigation. They may work on boats and their English may carry a slight accent, but that is absolutely no reason to underestimate their intelligence and sophistication. (In fact they have to be U.S. citizens in order to own shrimp vessels.)

These fishermen have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Buddhist temples) across the country, not just only in Louisiana. In fact, one needs to fully understand the Vietnamese politics in Louisiana and Texas in order to appreciate the meaning of true leadership which is completely misunderstood by the main stream media. In Louisiana alone, there are three groups currently claiming leadership among the Vietnamese fishermen. Presently, the biggest group is led by a number of young Catholic Priests, Baptist Pastors, Buddhist Monks, and many fishermen and their adult children who are very well educated and sophisticated.

Second: it is contended that 40% as the contingent fee is unreasonable. We believe this is a misunderstanding by the Law Corps. The fact is that, in mass tort litigation such as the Deepwater Horizon matter where so much in resources is required to prosecute claims, clients simply do not have the financial ability to pay for the necessary lawyers and experts by the hour. Contingent fees thus allow for victims—who are already suffering financial hardship—to prosecute their claims at virtually no risk to themselves or their families. It is within this context that law firms in mass tort cases routinely charge 40% as the contingent fee, in exchange for the risk that they are bearing. All that said, the important fact to know here is that, as of mid-May—long before the Volunteer Law Corps even arrived in the Gulf—many lawyers in the plaintiffs’ bar had already reduced their fees to 33% or even 25% in writing due to the particular facts of this case. Allegations of a 40% contingent fee is simply unwarranted here.

Third: as a related matter, it has been contended that there exist “retainer agreements with attorney fees as high as 60%.” The fact is that any retainer agreement with such a high percentage would be deemed unconscionable and thus void as a matter of law. Currently, we are not aware of a single lawyer charging 60% or 50%. Indeed, as discussed above, the typical fee contracts of 40% have been voluntarily reduced in writing by almost all plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Fourth: it is contended that the plaintiffs’ lawyers will take any money the victims receive from BP. The fact is that, as early as mid-May—before the Volunteer Law Corps arrived in the Gulf—many attorneys requested the BP Oil Claim adjusters to make all interim checks payable to, and send these checks directly to, the victims. This fact is recorded in court hearings and various legal documents and correspondence filed with BP. As a result, at this time, virtually no plaintiffs’ lawyers have either charged or received any legal fees on these BP interim payments. Given the clarity of the record on this point, we do not understand the reasons for any allegations to the contrary.

Lastly: the BP Oil Spill is an immense catastrophe that goes beyond parish and state borders. This is a national problem, unlike any our country has ever faced before. Helping the people injured by BP’s actions will take a large team of dedicated professionals who are armed with the expertise, experience, and resources to help those who need it. It is certainly understandable for communities that have suffered mistreatment and exploitation in the past always to be wary. But unwarranted wariness should not come at the price of progress, and it should not put community members at risk in division and litigation where the lives of so many families and individuals are at stake. Our sincere hope is that parochialism and misplaced suspicion will not hinder our shared goal of helping the hurting Vietnamese community in this time of crisis.


The BP Oil Spill is a huge tragedy that destroyed many lives and as a community, we must try to build it together. Instead of going to the press to portray the Vietnamese fishermen as “illiterate”* and “tax evading people,”** and attacking others without checking facts, the Vietnamese American Volunteer Law Corps needs to research and verify information, and correct the incorrect facts. Our sincere hope is that the White Paper will contain accurate, reliable information with answers from all groups and all churches and all faiths. In Louisiana there are numerous churches and groups of fishermen: to cite a few, the convents and churches in New Orleans, Houma, Morgan, New Iberia, Abbeville with Vietnamese fishermen who have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths. There are groups of fishermen who are Baptists and Buddhists.
In fact, the Vietnamese American Fisherman and Oil Spill Victims intend to file The Fishermen Paper to correct the misinformation and wrong assumptions, if any. That the Vietnamese American Volunteer Law Corps was formed at the request of the Mississippi Center for Justice, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Legal Services of Alabama, and Congressman Cao should make it and its members be more prudent and careful about what is said and what is written. Your mission can only be accomplished if it includes all voices; and if it contains accurate, reliable information obtained from unbiased sources and all faiths and free from any Political Agenda. Your mission can only be accomplished if it inclusive, and not exclusive.

*(“Some of these fishermen are illiterate and many don’t speak English…”*)

See the issues that the White Paper plans to raise --with implication that Vietnamese fishermen do not declare income tax. The fact is: virtually 95% of Vietnamse boat owners, captains, and deckhands and business victims have very proper tax documents. This stereo type needs to be corrected.

Viet Am Volunteer Law Corps’ current efforts in light of the BP Oil Spill is very laudable, and we in the public deeply appreciate its noble intent and dedication. But the Law Corps’ recent public pronouncements—in numerous news articles which interviewed its members—unfortunately indicate some significant misunderstandings about the needs of the BP Oil Spill victims, their relationship with their attorneys, and the complexity of the challenges ahead. We therefore wish to correct a few points in the record so that we, the community as a whole, may all work together, in a spirit of cooperation rather than unwarranted suspicion, and guide our community through this difficult time.

First: it is contended that many victims signed contracts with lawyers that they did not understand. The fact is that virtually all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys met and retained the most reputable Vietnamese translators, as well as ethics experts, to draft and review their fee agreements. The fee agreements were thus written in Vietnamese, not in English. The lawyers also discussed the fee agreements with the potential clients prior to execution, and many had independent third parties explain the fee agreements with the victims in the presence of others.

It is also worth noting that, despite the seeming characterization of the victims as being simple-minded, unquestioning immigrants, the truth is that these Vietnamese-American fishermen have shown themselves to be savvy businessmen and American citizens who have taken an active role with their attorneys in the Oil Spill Litigation. They may work on boats and their English may carry a slight accent, but that is absolutely no reason to underestimate their intelligence and sophistication. (In fact they have to be U.S. citizens in order to own shrimp vessels.)

These fishermen have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Buddhist temples)across the country, not just only in Louisiana. In fact, one needs to fully understand the Vietnamese politics in Louisiana and Texas in order to appreciate the meaning of true leadership which is completely misunderstood by the main stream media. In Louisiana alone, there are three groups currently claiming leadership among the Vietnamese fishermen. Presently, the biggest group is led by a number of young Catholic Priests, Baptist Pastors, Buddhist Monks, and many fishermen and their adult children who are very well educated and sophisticated.

Second: it is contended that 40% as the contingent fee is unreasonable. We believe this is a misunderstanding by the Law Corps. The fact is that, in mass tort litigation such as the Deepwater Horizon matter where so much in resources is required to prosecute claims, clients simply do not have the financial ability to pay for the necessary lawyers and experts by the hour. Contingent fees thus allow for victims—who are already suffering financial hardship—to prosecute their claims at virtually no risk to themselves or their families. It is within this context that law firms in mass tort cases routinely charge 40% as the contingent fee, in exchange for the risk that they are bearing. All that said, the important fact to know here is that, as of mid-May—long before the Volunteer Law Corps even arrived in the Gulf—many lawyers in the plaintiffs’ bar had already reduced their fees to 33% or even 25% in writing due to the particular facts of this case. Allegations of a 40% contingent fee is simply unwarranted here.

Third: as a related matter, it has been contended that there exist “retainer agreements with attorney fees as high as 60%.” The fact is that any retainer agreement with such a high percentage would be deemed unconscionable and thus void as a matter of law. Currently, we are not aware of a single lawyer charging 60% or 50%. Indeed, as discussed above, the typical fee contracts of 40% have been voluntarily reduced in writing by almost all plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Fourth: it is contended that the plaintiffs’ lawyers will take any money the victims receive from BP. The fact is that, as early as mid-May—before the Volunteer Law Corps arrived in the Gulf—many attorneys requested the BP Oil Claim adjusters to make all interim checks payable to, and send these checks directly to, the victims. This fact is recorded in court hearings and various legal documents and correspondence filed with BP. As a result, at this time, virtually no plaintiffs’ lawyers have either charged or received any legal fees on these BP interim payments. Given the clarity of the record on this point, we do not understand the reasons for any allegations to the contrary.

Lastly: the BP Oil Spill is an immense catastrophe that goes beyond parish and state borders. This is a national problem, unlike any our country has ever faced before. Helping the people injured by BP’s actions will take a large team of dedicated professionals who are armed with the expertise, experience, and resources to help those who need it. It is certainly understandable for communities that have suffered mistreatment and exploitation in the past always to be wary. But unwarranted wariness should not come at the price of progress, and it should not put community members at risk in division and litigation where the lives of so many families and individuals are at stake. Our sincere hope is that parochialism and misplaced suspicion will not hinder our shared goal of helping the hurting Vietnamese community in this time of crisis.

Viet Am Volunteer Law Corps’ current efforts in light of the BP Oil Spill is very laudable, and we in the public deeply appreciate its noble intent and dedication. But the Law Corps’ recent public pronouncements—in numerous news articles which interviewed its members—unfortunately indicate some significant misunderstandings about the needs of the BP Oil Spill victims, their relationship with their attorneys, and the complexity of the challenges ahead. We therefore wish to correct a few points in the record so that we, the community as a whole, may all work together, in a spirit of cooperation rather than unwarranted suspicion, and guide our community through this difficult time.

First: it is contended that many victims signed contracts with lawyers that they did not understand. The fact is that virtually all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys met and retained the most reputable Vietnamese translators, as well as ethics experts, to draft and review their fee agreements. The fee agreements were thus written in Vietnamese, not in English. The lawyers also discussed the fee agreements with the potential clients prior to execution, and many had independent third parties explain the fee agreements with the victims in the presence of others.

It is also worth noting that, despite the seeming characterization of the victims as being simple-minded, unquestioning immigrants, the truth is that these Vietnamese-American fishermen have shown themselves to be savvy businessmen and American citizens who have taken an active role with their attorneys in the Oil Spill Litigation. They may work on boats and their English may carry a slight accent, but that is absolutely no reason to underestimate their intelligence and sophistication. (In fact they have to be U.S. citizens in order to own shrimp vessels.)

These fishermen have organized themselves into well led groups with the advice of religious leaders from various faiths (Baptist churches, Catholic churches and convents, and Buddhist temples)across the country, not just only in Louisiana. In fact, one needs to fully understand the Vietnamese politics in Louisiana and Texas in order to appreciate the meaning of true leadership which is completely misunderstood by the main stream media. In Louisiana alone, there are three groups currently claiming leadership among the Vietnamese fishermen. Presently, the biggest group is led by a number of young Catholic Priests, Baptist Pastors, Buddhist Monks, and many fishermen and their adult children who are very well educated and sophisticated.

Second: it is contended that 40% as the contingent fee is unreasonable. We believe this is a misunderstanding by the Law Corps. The fact is that, in mass tort litigation such as the Deepwater Horizon matter where so much in resources is required to prosecute claims, clients simply do not have the financial ability to pay for the necessary lawyers and experts by the hour. Contingent fees thus allow for victims—who are already suffering financial hardship—to prosecute their claims at virtually no risk to themselves or their families. It is within this context that law firms in mass tort cases routinely charge 40% as the contingent fee, in exchange for the risk that they are bearing. All that said, the important fact to know here is that, as of mid-May—long before the Volunteer Law Corps even arrived in the Gulf—many lawyers in the plaintiffs’ bar had already reduced their fees to 33% or even 25% in writing due to the particular facts of this case. Allegations of a 40% contingent fee is simply unwarranted here.

Third: as a related matter, it has been contended that there exist “retainer agreements with attorney fees as high as 60%.” The fact is that any retainer agreement with such a high percentage would be deemed unconscionable and thus void as a matter of law. Currently, we are not aware of a single lawyer charging 60% or 50%. Indeed, as discussed above, the typical fee contracts of 40% have been voluntarily reduced in writing by almost all plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Fourth: it is contended that the plaintiffs’ lawyers will take any money the victims receive from BP. The fact is that, as early as mid-May—before the Volunteer Law Corps arrived in the Gulf—many attorneys requested the BP Oil Claim adjusters to make all interim checks payable to, and send these checks directly to, the victims. This fact is recorded in court hearings and various legal documents and correspondence filed with BP. As a result, at this time, virtually no plaintiffs’ lawyers have either charged or received any legal fees on these BP interim payments. Given the clarity of the record on this point, we do not understand the reasons for any allegations to the contrary.

Lastly: the BP Oil Spill is an immense catastrophe that goes beyond parish and state borders. This is a national problem, unlike any our country has ever faced before. Helping the people injured by BP’s actions will take a large team of dedicated professionals who are armed with the expertise, experience, and resources to help those who need it. It is certainly understandable for communities that have suffered mistreatment and exploitation in the past always to be wary. But unwarranted wariness should not come at the price of progress, and it should not put community members at risk in division and litigation where the lives of so many families and individuals are at stake. Our sincere hope is that parochialism and misplaced suspicion will not hinder our shared goal of helping the hurting Vietnamese community in this time of crisis.

We, the Vietnamese American Volunteer Law Corps, formed our legal education clinic at the request of the Mississippi Center for Justice, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and Legal Services of Alabama. Our corps consists of 29 attorneys and volunteers from various parts of the country with a diverse legal and professional background. Our volunteers received no compensation for their work.

We are grateful to several individuals and entities, including the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Office of Congressman Joseph Cao, and other plaintiff’s attorneys who briefed us at our trainings.

The clinics provided attendees information in 5 categories: the BP claims process, legal rights regarding compensation, retaining/firing a lawyer, Vessel of Opportunity (boats) Program, and other resources. We also explained to the attendees that if and when they need more assistance to preserve their rights, they should consider contacting the local non-profit legal aid or hiring a private attorney. As attorneys and community advocates, we recognize the need for lawyers and lawsuits, and adequate fees to pursue the necessary remedies. We stated this point in our white paper.

However, we saw retainer agreements with attorney fees as high as 60%. The more egregious cases were those where the clients never received any documentation from their attorneys and never met their attorneys, and where they signed and offered personal information without knowing who received the private information.

If as a result of our volunteer work that the public is more sensitive to concerns by the Vietnamese American community in the Gulf region, then we have accomplished part of our mission.

We continue to welcome any public feedback on our paper and recommendations.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill rasies many personal and legal issues for the potentially millions of people harmed. The legal issues are complex even for the attorneys representing victims because of the number of responsible parties, including BP, Transocean, Haliburton and Cameron, to name a few, and because there is both litigation aspects and claims to the Independent Claims Facility (ICF) to consider. Even obtaining interim payments from BP since the April 20 explosion has been a challenge for many victims and attorneys. Even the attorneys who are working for free to help victims receive their deserved interim payments must be extremely careful and thorough and be sure to advise their clients of their rights and legal obligations both in the BP claims process and going forward. BP will not simply write a check in the full amount of every claim; rather, each claim must be prepared in to maximize the chances for an interim payment that allows injured parties to meet their financial obligations but is also requires care in ensuring that clients do not sign any documents that could waive their future right to recover their full loss either through litigation, the ICF or both.

As a result, even at this early stage, responsible law firms—in preparing their clients' claims to submit to BP, as required under OPA—have already done comprehensive legal research and consulted reputable forensic accountants, economists, and scientists to better understand and attempt to calculate losses/damages. Of course, with oil still gushing from the well, it is near impossible at this juncture to evaluate the full extent of loss into the future.

Additionally, while preparing clients' claims to BP, attorneys lawyer must carefully plan the claim process with an eye toward possible litigation should BP deny a portion or all of the claim within 90 days and how that claim will impact litigation against the parties responsible besides BP (as mentioned above). Therefore, at the very least, the claim preparer must have a solid understanding of the OPA and the various states' laws, as well as other statutes and regulations that will maximize victims' rights and recoveries. The claim preparer consequently must be more than able simply to fill out a claims; he or she should also understand the issues outlined above and, in the end, be able to litigate against BP in court should the claims process fall short of providing full and fair compensation.

Without the guidance of an experienced attorney, a boat owner or a business victim, for example, faces various dangers. If the victim has an attorney by his side who might well be well-intentioned but without the relevant knowledge base and legal expertise, the victim could be harmed further by an inadequate claim being submitted on his behalf, a claim that could be binding on the victim throughout the BP claims process, the Feinberg ICF process and subsequent litigation.

Recent articles have stated, via hearsay, that plaintiffs’ lawyers are overcharging on their contingency fees with victims, in percentages of 50% or even 60%. This is incorrect and untrue, intended to create a story to inhibit victims from seeking advice and counsel that they need and deserve and to create a story that takes the spotlight away from BP's and the others' grossly negligent conduct with the Deepwater Horizon. Currently no lawyer charges 60%, 50% and even 40%. (The typical fee contracts of 40% have been voluntarily reduced by almost all plaintiff lawyers). Also to help the victims, plaintiffs' lawyers voluntarily chose not to charge the interim payments BP.

The plaintiffs bar is working closely with victims to assist them in receiving interim payments, and most of those attorneys are not collecting any fees on that work. Moreover, the plaintiffs bars of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are working together to the extent possible to coordinate efforts in the interests of their clients. Many of these lawyers talk to one another daily in a confidential email forum and share notes, experiences, expertise, legal strategies, and even the reasonableness and fairness of their fees in order to help the victims.

This case requires lawyers with expertise and experience in mass tort litigation, Multidistrict Litigation, maritime law, environmental law, OPA, and ethics. While free or pro bono services are laudable, such services should not be offered unless the attorneys have the requisite experience. Thus, knowledge of the Vietnamese language, without knowledge of the underlying laws and procedures of these types of cases, will not serve to aid victims to recover what they justly deserve today and in the future. Counsel representing victims in the BP disaster should have the expertise, experience, and substantial financial resources to fight BP and the other responsible parties. As stated above, even the most experienced Plaintiffs' lawyers are working together in this case to share knowledge, expertise, wisdom, experts, legal strategies, and resources.

All BP forms and legal documents are being translated into accurate Vietnamese (not by BP's Vietnamese translators). Many plaintiff lawyers (Vietnamese and American trial lawyers involved in representing victims of the oil spill) have forms, documents, the OPA and ethical rules translated by the top certified translators.

We hear that some of the pro bono counsel offering to help Vietnamese victims of the BP oil spill have made derogatory statements about plaintiffs' attorneys involved in the BP oil spill litigation and claims process. Instead of calling plaintiff's lawyers bad names and making defamatory statements about the plaintiffs' bar, attorneys desiring to help victims should reach out to one another and work together. Many reputable plaintiff attorneys would be more than willing to help pro bono lawyers who represent victims of the oil spill. All attorneys representing victims should focus on the common bad actors here: BP and other the corporate wrongdoers that created the events leading up to the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion. Plaintiffs' lawyers and their staffs have been relentlessly working since April to help the Vietnamese victims. Despite statements to the contrary by some pro bono attorneys, these counsel care for the victims and deserve to be respected and recognized for their contributions.

The Vietnamese Lawyer Association should form a committee of and work with experienced Vietnamese trial lawyers and experienced Plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and a team of forensic experts to serve the Vietnamese fishermen. The BP Oil Spill Litigation is a battle. A head requires a heart to understand the reason for fighting, but a heart requires a head to know how to fight. At this critical hour, the Vietnamese fishermen and other victims must be served with both.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill rasies many personal and legal issues for the potentially millions of people harmed. The legal issues are complex even for the attorneys representing victims because of the number of responsible parties, including BP, Transocean, Haliburton and Cameron, to name a few, and because there is both litigation aspects and claims to the Independent Claims Facility (ICF) to consider. Even obtaining interim payments from BP since the April 20 explosion has been a challenge for many victims and attorneys. Even the attorneys who are working for free to help victims receive their deserved interim payments must be extremely careful and thorough and be sure to advise their clients of their rights and legal obligations both in the BP claims process and going forward. BP will not simply write a check in the full amount of every claim; rather, each claim must be prepared in to maximize the chances for an interim payment that allows injured parties to meet their financial obligations but is also requires care in ensuring that clients do not sign any documents that could waive their future right to recover their full loss either through litigation, the ICF or both. As a result, even at this early stage, responsible law firms—in preparing their clients' claims to submit to BP, as required under OPA—have already done comprehensive legla research and consulted reputable forensic accountants, economists, and scientists to better understand and attempt to calculate losses/damages. Of course, with oil still gushing from the well, it is near impossible at this juncture to evaluate the full extent of loss into the future.

Additionally, while preparing clients' claims to BP, attorneys lawyer must carefully plan the claim process with an eye toward possible litigation should BP deny a portion or all of the claim within 90 days and how that claim will impact litigation against the parties responsible besides BP (as mentioned above). Therefore, at the very least, the claim preparer must have a solid understanding of the OPA and the various states' laws, as well as other statutes and regulations that will maximize victims' rights and recoveries. The claim preparer consequently must be more than able simply to fill out a claims; he or she should also understand the issues outlined above and, in the end, be able to litigate against BP in court should the claims process fall short of providing full and fair compensation.

Without the guidance of an experienced attorney, a boat owner or a business victim, for example, faces various dangers. If the victim has an attorney by his side who might well be well-intentioned but without the relevant knowledge base and legal expertise, the victim could be harmed further by an inadequate claim being submitted on his behalf, a claim that could be binding on the victim throughout the BP claims process, the Feinberg ICF process and subsequent litigation.

Recent articles have stated, via hearsay, that plaintiffs’ lawyers are overcharging on their contingency fees with victims, in percentages of 50% or even 60%. This is incorrect and untrue, intended to create a story to inhibit victims from seeking advice and counsel that they need and deserve and to create a story that takes the spotlight away from BP's and the others' grossly negligent conduct with the Deepwater Horizon. Currently no lawyer charges 60%, 50% and even 40% is rare if non-existent. The plaintiffs bar is working closely with victims to assist them in receiving interim payments, and most of those attorneys are not collecting any fees on that work. Moreover, the plaintiffs bars of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are working together to the extent possible to coordinate efforts in the interests of their clients. Many of these lawyers talk to one another daily in a confidential email forum and share notes, experiences, expertise, legal strategies, and even the reasonableness and fairness of their fees in order to help the victims.

This case requires lawyers with expertise and experience in mass tort litigation, Multidistrict Litigation, maritime law, environmental law, OPA, and ethics. While free or pro bono services are laudable, such services should not be offered unless the attorneys have the requisite experience. Thus, knowledge of the Vietnamese language, without knowledge of the underlying laws and procedures of these types of cases, will not serve to aid victims to recover what they justly deserve today and in the future. Counsel representing victims in the BP disaster should have the expertise, experience, and substantial financial resources to fight BP and the other responsible parties. As stated above, even the most experienced Plaintiffs' lawyers are working together in this case to share knowledge, expertise, wisdom, experts, legal strategies, and resources.

All BP forms and legal documents are being translated into accurate Vietnamese (not by BP's Vietnamese translators). Many plaintiff lawyers (Vietnamese and American trial lawyers involved in representing victims of the oil spill) have forms, documents, the OPA and ethical rules translated by the top certified translators.

We hear that some of the pro bono counsel offering to help Vietnamese victims of the BP oil spill have made derogatory statements about plaintiffs' attorneys involved in the BP oil spill litigation and claims process. Instead of calling plaintiff's lawyers bad names and making defamatory statements about the plaintiffs' bar, attorneys desiring to help victims should reach out to one another and work together. Many reputable plaintiff attorneys would be more than willing to help pro bono lawyers who represent victims of the oil spill. All attorneys representing victims should focus on the common bad actors here: BP and other the corporate wrongdoers that created the events leading up to the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion. Plaintiffs' lawyers and their staffs have been relentlessly working since April to help the Vietnamese victims. Despite statements to the contrary by some pro bono attorneys, these counsel care for the victims and deserve to be respected and recognized for their contributions.

The Vietnamese Lawyer Association should form a committee of and work with experienced Vietnamese trial lawyers and experienced Plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and a team of forensic experts to serve the Vietnamese fishermen. The BP Oil Spill Litigation is a battle. A head requires a heart to understand the reason for fighting, but a heart requires a head to know how to fight. At this critical hour, the Vietnamese fishermen and other victims must be served with both.

This is just a heartbreaking situation for so many that were somehow involved in the seafood industry. Saw this story on CNN yesterday, its frustrating that people have to shut down because there is no help or assistance available to them.

There has been extreme difficulty for the Vietnamese American Communities Affected in the Gulf altogether. Some of which we have heard includes:
- financial problems
- folks not understanding what they are signing
- not understanding the BP Claims process
- not understanding what their legal rights are
- how to hire/fire a lawyer
- why BP will not talk to them if they have retained a lawyer
- not sure as to whether or not they retained a lawyer
- post-Oil spill, they were sitting at home idle, unable to work, with no one around to help, and when someone comes to town speaking Vietnamese to help, they sign paperwork without fulling understanding
- Not having the documents requested by BP (documents required change all the time)
- Once submitted all documents requested by BP, have not received funds
- employers refusing to sign off on their paperwork
- The next step (option 1), filing a lawsuit (some lawsuits have been filed in other states which these folks did not understand), has problems in itself having to deal with possible multi-district litigation in another state, possibly Boise Idaho, where a panel of attorneys would be appointed
- The next step (option 2) is try to get funds from a trust fund which process is unclear and some have said is not even 1% enough to cover the damage caused
- mental health concerns
- those staying at home idle, unable to work
- folks signing up to try to help clean to oil without fulling understanding the health risks
- many folks are desperate to work and sign up to clean the oil, but positions are few and far between
- folks who do sign up to work to clean the oil are not employees and do not understand that - only boat owners of a certain size boat can sign up
- folks sign contracts to be available to work to clean up the oil, misunderstanding it as a guarantee that they will soon be called to clean up the oil (retrofitting the boat with the requirements, spending possible their last funds)

Man that's messed up shark lawyers coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of these poor people... first they leave vietnam bc of the war, then katrina hits them and now BP


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