Class representatives represent the interests of all class members who have been affected by the conduct challenged in a lawsuit. They owe a fiduciary duty to the class and cannot put their own interests ahead of those of the other class members.
Duty as a Class Representative
The courts require class representatives to adequately and fairly represent the class. They may accomplish this duty by:
(1) The class representative must be generally familiar with the litigation.
This does not mean they must know every single aspect of the lawsuit. The attorneys will keep the representatives informed of major events, and this will satisfy the duty. The class representatives should read the Complaint that starts the lawsuit and generally understand it. They should know who they are suing and why. They should also read and be familiar with all other important pleadings and motions filed by their counsel, and depending on the specific pleading or motion, read it and provide input to counsel before it is filed with the court.
(2) They must vigorously prosecute the litigation.
This basically means they must authorize the attorneys to do what is necessary to successfully prosecute the case on behalf of the class. It also means that they must cooperate with the attorneys in providing information, answering discovery, sitting for a deposition and making major decisions about the case.
(3) They must hire lawyers experienced in class action litigation and regularly communicate with their counsel.
No Special Treatment
Class representatives may not be promised any special treatment above the treatment which may be awarded to other class members. When class actions settle, the court often awards additional compensation to the class representatives for the extra time and effort they spend on the case and for bringing the lawsuit challenging the illegal conduct. This extra compensation in known as “incentive payments” and is subject to court approval and cannot be guaranteed.
No Duty to Investigate or Be an Expert
Although class representatives have a duty to understand the basics of their lawsuit and stay apprised of significant developments in the case, they have no personal duty to investigate or be an expert on the law or the legal issues in the case. That is why they hire experienced lawyers in class action litigation.
If a class action settles prior to trial, the settlement must be approved by the court. The class representatives should be consulted before any settlement is reached, and of course, counsel cannot agree to a settlement without actual client authority. The class representatives also can comment to the court on any proposed payment of fees and costs to class counsel.
Additional resources provided by the author
Timothy L. Miles has committed his entire career to representing shareholders in complex litigation. Mr. Miles has been recognized for numerous awards for his legal abilities in his struggles to fight for shareholder rights not only among his peers but also those in the judiciary who see firsthand not only his tenacity for protecting shareholder rights, but how he always adheres to the utmost ethical standards when litigating against his adversaries and in a Court of Law. These efforts have resulted in Mr. Miles being recognized not only as an industry leader in his fight for shareholders but also in the ethical manner in which he conducts himself as a lawyer and member of the bar. These recognitions include: The AV® Preeminent™ Rating by Martindale-Hubble®, which is bestowed on fewer than 5 percent of attorneys, in Securities Law, Litigation and Class Actions (2014-2018); The AV® Preeminent™ Attorney – Judicial Edition, the Highest Possible Rating in Both Legal Ability & Ethical Standard Reflecting the confidential opinions on members of the Bar and Judiciary (2018-2017); The Top-Rated Lawyer in Litigation™ for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability by Martindale-Hubble® (Feb. 2015); Superb Rated Attorney, (10.0 out of 10), the Highest Rating Possible by Avvo; Avvo Top Rated Lawyer 2017 & 2018 (Avvo); America’s Most Honored Professionals – Top 1% (2016-2018) (American Registry). Mr. Miles is also a member of Top 100 Civil Plaintiff Trial Lawyers: The National Trial Lawyers Association, which is by invitation only and according to the National Trial Lawyers Association, is “extended to those attorneys who exemplify superior qualifications, trial results, and leadership in their respective state based upon objective and uniformly applied criteria.” The press release by The National Trial Lawyers Association announcing Mr. Miles selection for inclusion into its Top 100 Trial Lawyers stated: “With the selection of Timothy L. Miles by The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, Miles has shown that he exemplifies superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a trial lawyer. The selection process for this elite honor is based on a multi-phase process which includes peer nominations combined with third party research.” Mr. Miles focuses his practice on securities fraud class actions, shareholder derivative actions, and corporate mergers and acquisitions class actions.