Abortion, Billable Hours, Gay Marriage, In-House Counsel, Politics, Practice Pointers, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

House Rules The Rates Are Too Damned High! (Part Two)

First, some random thoughts on the legal news of the week:

1) Who gives two ***** if gay folks get married? Or have the same rights as you and me? My goodness, if two people want to get married, God Bless them! And it is a civil rights issue; being told that you can’t have information on your partner’s hospital stay because of HIPAA is downright medieval. The pastor whose YouTube speech went viral after reading from anti-desegregation literature and turning it into an anti-gay marriage diatribe was probably the most brilliant argument in defense of gay marriage. Twenty years from now we’ll be saying: “Gay marriage? Meh, it’s really those damned ______ that we have to watch out for…” Hey, it’s America, **** yeah!!, every group gets a turn at being the downtrodden.

2) Don’t get me started on North Dakota’s draconian steps with regard to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Now see, it’s Holy Week and I probably can’t take communion.

3) This DLA Piper billing debacle? Makes me sick, and is a perfect segue into finishing my column from last week. I know I know, DLA came out and said, “Heh heh, we were just kidding. Those guys aren’t even around here anymore. Overbilling? Meh. Never happened, we promise.” What did you expect them to say?

I happen to know personally one of those mentioned in the story, and he was just as much a dim bulb back then, so it is no surprise that he wrote that stuff in an email. That he moved on to a partnership at another firm is no surprise either. I will say that he is infamous for leaving one of the funniest and most outrageous drunk emails voicemails on a colleague’s phone early one morning. And he probably can’t figure out who he is from this blind item in any event. But, I digress, back to overbilling…

Last week I wrote about an amicus letter that ACC sent to the S.D.N.Y. regarding the plaintiffs’ attorney fees request in In re Citigroup Securities Litigation, Case No. 1:07-cv-09901-SHS. To rehash, these folks are asking with straight faces for what seem to be exorbitant and outrageous fees for contract attorney time. Not only that but they claim those attorneys rates should be calculated at Biglaw associate hourly rates in order for the judge to arrive at a fee award.

Again, in-house lawyers are not paying law firms to hire the cheapest labor available and then turn around and bill out hundreds of dollars per hour (in some cases 1000 percent) over the rate paid to the associate). They are also not hiring DLA to submit a budget that their people will then crap all over.

I was intrigued as to why ACC would go to the trouble of filing an amicus letter in a lowly district court case. So I asked Amar Sarwal, Advocacy Counsel for ACC, to fill me in. His response follows:

The Association of Corporate Counsel participated in the Citigroup case as part of its Value Challenge, an ongoing effort to ensure that its lawyers, both inside and outside companies, employ commonsense business principles in the practice of law. Imagine that. There would be more alternative fee arrangements, better use of cutting edge project and process management and real efforts to more closely align the incentives, financial and otherwise, of lawyers and their clients. No more looking under every rock for answers that don’t matter. Or for answers that merely increase the number of billable hours.

Until the Citigroup filing, the ACC focused its firepower on the outside counsel bar and on its own members, so that they could better drive value for their clients. But now it’s looking externally at other players in the legal services industry, because times have changed. We’re no longer in 2007, and the sooner our profession figures that out, the better chance we have surviving in the “New Normal.” In just the past month, judges have raised concerns about the huge markups of contract attorneys in multiple cases and about overstaffing in some not-so-complex litigation. ACC will reinforce that growing trend in any venue it can find, so churners and overbillers, beware.

Amar is a hell of a lawyer and advocate, and his argument on behalf of ACC makes eminent sense to me. I remember the billable churn. It could turn sour (read, low) billables into a “good” month. The churn could also assist in meeting monthly and year end targets. It’s an open secret in the profession, and the sooner it goes from being a reality to being apocryphal, the better.

Oh, and just one more thing, I wonder how Justice Thomas will rule on DOMA, given that he would not have been able to marry his wife in the not-too-distant past. He still would have been able to harass Anita Hill, but not marry his wife.

Earlier: House Rules: The Rates Are Too Damned High! (Part One)

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at dmowry00@gmail.com.

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