We know that attorneys at top firms like WilmerHale can charge stunning rates — up to $750 an hour for litigation chair Howard Shapiro.
But if you ask them, that’s a bargain.
Wilmer moved for an award of attorneys’ fees after winning a $90 million verdict in a False Claims Act case. The usual lodestar method of calculating fees, logically enough, is to multiply the attorneys’ standard billing rates by the number of hours they spent on the case. But Wilmer argued that its standard billing rates grossly undervalue the superhuman skills of its legal team. It asked the court to perform the lodestar calculation and then award twice the result in attorneys’ fees. In other words, according to Wilmer, its clients who pay by the hour get a 50% discount off the true value of the work.
Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the district court in D.C. didn’t buy the idea that Wilmer’s entire litigation practice is a pro bono program in disguise. The judge kicked Wilmer around for 169 pages before putting the fee petition to rest. He wondered why, if the attorneys had such extraordinary abilities, it took so many of them to get the job done:
Assigning eleven different attorneys to work on one deposition, however crucial the witness, can hardly be characterized as efficient. . . . WilmerHale [used] fifty-two lawyers and thirty paralegals in this case.
Judge Lamberth further ruled that Wilmer’s record-keeping was too vague and sloppy to support awarding even the lodestar amount. Plaintiff’s counsel in the McAfee v. WilmerHale overbilling case must be kicking themselves for not filing in Washington.
Judge Lamberth did note that the members of the Wilmer team were “graduates of prestigious law schools and/or former judicial clerks.” But apparently even members of the Elect — including Mike Gottlieb (OT 2004 / Stevens), Jonathan Cedarbaum (OT 1998 / Souter), and Robert Bell (OT 1981 / White) — aren’t worth $1000+ an hour.
Wilmer’s going to be OK; they’ll get about $7 million of the $20 million they asked for. But we should feel some sympathy all the same. It must be tough to hear that you’re only worth 100% of what the market will bear.
[Ed. note: This post is by FROLIC & DETOUR, one of the finalists in ATL Idol, the “reality blogging” competition that will determine ATL’s next editor. It is marked with Frolic & Detour’s avatar (at right).]