Because the UCL has no attorneys' fees provision, successful plaintiffs typically seek their fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, the "private attorney general" doctrine. In Lindelli v. Town of San Anselmo, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (May 26, 2006), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Five) held that, absent a contrary agreement with the client, the right to recover fees under section 1021.5 belongs to the attorney. That means that the attorney can intervene in the action and seek fees on her own behalf even if the client refuses to authorize a fee request:
Were we to interpret section 1021.5 as precluding intervention and an attorney’s request for fees where the client declines to move for a fee award, we would diminish the certainty that attorneys who undertake public interest cases will receive reasonable compensation and dilute section 1021.5’s effectiveness at encouraging counsel to undertake litigation enforcing important public policies. (See Flannery [v. Prentice], supra, 26 Cal.4th  583 [(2001)].) Were we to adopt respondents’ position it would also provide a windfall to the wrongdoing defendant, at the expense of the attorneys who labored in the public interest. (Cf. id. at pp. 585-586 [interpreting Government Code section 12965 to avoid windfall to client]; MacIsaac v. Waste Management Collection & Recycling, Inc. (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 1076, 1091 [“California courts are justifiably reluctant to construe statutes to confer a windfall”]; Lolley v. Campbell (2002) 28 Cal.4th 367, 376 [interpreting fee provision in the Labor Code to avoid windfall to wrongdoing employer in form of exemption from paying attorney fees].) Finally, interpreting section 1021.5 as permitting intervention and a motion for fees by attorneys on their own behalf avoids wasteful collateral actions wherein attorneys sue their former clients because the clients’ refusal to move for fees led to loss of an opportunity to seek a fee award under section 1021.5.
Slip op. at 15. The opinion also notes that any motion for fees under section 1021.5 must be filed before entry of final judgment. Slip op. at 14.