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More than 100 lawyers are battling for the biggest chunks of what is likely to be a multibillion-dollar settlement for Gulf of Mexico oil spill victims, jockeying for spots on the elite team that will control the plaintiffs' cases.

A judge will pick 12 to 15 lawyers to take the lead in lawsuits against BP PLC and other companies filed by thousands of fishermen, restaurateurs, hotel operators, property owners and many others over the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Competition is fierce: The candidates include a former Cabinet secretary and the lawyer who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential recount case. The team could get up to 15 percent of a multibillion-dollar settlement from more than 300 lawsuits that have been consolidated in New Orleans federal court. And that's on top of the typical 30 percent fee that lawyers charge their individual clients.

"This is a very lucrative position," said Brian Fitzpatrick, a Vanderbilt University law professor who has studied how attorney fees work. "You not only control the case but you get a big percentage off the top. This will attract all the big fish."

Applications from 112 attorneys have been filed with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who will announce his choices in the coming weeks. Top trial lawyers from around the nation are represented, many of them veterans of similar high-profile cases such as Toyota's sudden acceleration problems and the troubled painkiller Vioxx.



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