Monday, October 12, 2009

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Large Legal Fee To Cry.


Legal bills remind me of the old Groucho Marx quip to the great New Yorker essayist S.J. Perelman --
"From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."
But it's true -- I think many judges and certainly clients often don't realize how expensive litigation is nowadays.

There's a lot to consider in Vanessa Blum's annual South Florida lawyer compensation survey, though as usual the methodology is flawed because the review is of fee submissions to courts in bankruptcy and from Florida government agencies who have retained private counsel, where fees are usually adjusted downward.

Still, as anyone who does this for a living knows, it costs an awful lot to litigate a case.

Consider Marcos (corrected!) Jimenez, who in a year racked up $700k in fees on behalf of the State of Florida in a valiant but unsuccessful effort to defeat class certification in the children's access-to-medical-care suit pending before Judge Jordan.

His team also handled a bunch of discovery and worked up and lost an sj motion.

(And this was at a discounted rate).

Or my pal Marty Steinberg, who -- seriously -- said his firm raises rates like clockwork every April Fool's Day.

Marty also told Vanessa he is worth every cent of his $695 an hour rate:
Hunton & Williams partner Marty Steinberg, who heads the receivership, said firm billing rates are determined centrally. Increases typically kick in April 1. Steinberg’s hourly rate was $695.

“I assume the firm thinks I’m worth that amount based on my track record,” he said. “I’ve tried hundreds of cases, and I’ve gotten pretty good results.”
This is actually true.

But let's not linger on fees. As Betty observed last night on Mad Men -- it's tawdry.

So go hail the conquering explorer Gerard Depardieu, have some fun on the bay with a bunch of drunken sailors, and see you all tomorrow!

aki2ru9cnd

4 comments:

  1. Love the Groucho reference!

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  2. Clients ARE NOT routinely paying rates like that in Miami. The bankruptcy judges need to question these rates.

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  3. These rates are not an accurate reflection of the legal market in South Florida. 5:53 is correct. Many firms charge, on paper, outrageous fees. I believe (just a hunch) that most of these fees are submitted to bankruptcy judges or receiver type arrangement or situations where an adverse party must pony up the money. In other words, where someone else is paying for it via court order as opposed to the market setting the rate. Someone like Steinberg may be able to command $695.00 an hour but the bulk of the grunt work is done at the bottom on the food chain. At his firm, he may have the luxury of billing 40 hours a week at that rate and yet still account for a very small percentage of the overall billing on a particular case. Thus, a corporate client may see a bill that is 90% $175 an hour and 10% $695.00 and pay it without question. But there are very few clients that will walk into one of these firms and agree to pay these high hourly rates without some severe restrictions on the overall distribution of the work done and rates applied. I always thought that one of the biggest frauds in our legal system was the way attorney fees are awarded after the fact, i.e, when market forces are not present. Any lawyer can bill a high rate and get a client to agree to pay it. But collecting that fee is a whole other matter. I am amazed when government agencies contract out to private law firms for assistance on difficult cases. While they pay there own attorneys chump change, they agree to pay outside law firms high hourly rates. This is more about politics than legal fees. Ditto the receiver scam. Every receiver hires an attorney. They both get paid before anyone else. And guess when most receivers decide their work is finished? That's right. When the money dries up. Judges are as complicit in this racket as the attorneys. And for what it is worth, the Groucho Marx line has made my day!

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  4. excellent points@8:33

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