One of our Biglaw friends told us a story of being on a call with a client and being told in advance by the partner not to say a word. It was not out of a fear that said associate would say something stupid, but because the partner didn’t want the client to think about how many lawyers were working on the case.
But when clients get their bills, they do usually take note of how many associates are working for them. These days, with everyone tightening their belts, clients sometimes get annoyed — or worse — when they have a whole football team of associates playing defense.
A family in Massachusetts objected to the number of K&L Gates players
on its team working on a probate case when the firm’s bill came to almost the same amount as the probate estate in question. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that K&L Gates’s $800,000 bill for defending a $1.2 million probate estate was for a whole lot of “unnecessary lawyering.”
From the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Docket:
In a ruling in In the Matter of the Estate of Bartley J. King, released today, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for a unanimous court that “a total of eighteen attorneys and paralegals were representing [the client], a remarkable number especially when one takes into account the motion judge’s view that the theories advanced by the contestants were not ‘overly complex.’”
Ouch. Overlawyered in body count, but underlawyered in brain power…
With eighteen lawyers and paralegals attached to the case, some might suggest K&L Gates did not lay off enough employees last year.
Why did the firm field such a big team? Updated: When 91-year-old Bartley King left his whole estate to one daughter, his other two children and nine grandchildren contested the will. The daughter hired K&L Gates to
contest the will protect her interest. The K&L Gates team was led by partner Stephen G. Howard:
“The primary staffing of the case was myself, and I had one other dedicated associate most of the time,” [Howard] said. “From our standpoint, we tried to make the case go away. We did motions to strike, we tried to dismiss on summary judgment, and because there were contested factual issues, we got to the trial.”
A trial judge had already knocked the firm’s bill down to $574,322. But on appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected that, sending the case back to Probate & Family Court for reconsideration of the fee. Justice Botsford wrote in the ruling:
“Even a cursory review of the billing records suggests that among all these attorneys there was duplication of effort,” the judge added, citing the fact that “a fair amount of billing for the time of two or more attorneys who were attending the same hearing.”
K&L Gates recently got rave reviews from the general counsel of Brunswick Corporation in the Chicago Tribune. Maybe the firm should stick to flat-fee arrangements to keep clients happy?
Probate lawyer in SJC case chided for ‘unnecessary overlawyering’ [Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly]
Understanding the flat-fee contract for legal services [Chicago Tribune]