The court will not countenance the gross overreaching evidenced under the facts and circumstances of this case in which the client is not even being billed for legal services. To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable.

– Judge Frank Nervo, denying a Biglaw firm’s request for more than $126,000 in attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit over a $6,400 security deposit. Judge Nervo added that the firm spent “a grossly unnecessary amount of time” on simple tasks, including “research on the most basic and banal legal principles.”

(Which firm was on the receiving end of this benchslap? Find out after the jump, where we’ve posted the full opinion.)

The firm in question was Mayer Brown, which apparently made this foray into landlord/tenant law because one of the tenants, Thomas Clozel, is the son of Jean-Paul Clozel, a founder and CEO of Actelion, a Swiss biopharmaceutical company that’s a Mayer Brown client. The client wasn’t being billed, as noted by Judge Nervo, because the case was being handled as one of those “friend of the firm” matters.

I can’t really fault Mayer Brown here, since “friend of the firm” matters often require Biglaw attorneys to immerse themselves in areas of law that they know nothing about. I once worked on such a case, involving the high school disciplinary problems of a kid whose father was a titan of finance, even though neither I nor the partner I worked with knew anything about education law. Luckily we were able to resolve the matter to the family’s satisfaction (and they sent me a lovely case of wine for the holidays).

So next time your cousin wants your help getting back his security deposit, refer him to a knowledgeable residential real-estate litigator — unless your cousin is willing to pay you a six-figure sum.

The Clozel opinion came out last week, but we learned of it today (via the ABA Journal). Here it is, for your reading pleasure.

Clozel v. Jalisi: Decision and Order

Judge Blasts Firm for $126,000 Legal Fee Recovery Request [New York Law Journal]
Judge says BigLaw firm sought fees for research on ‘basic and banal’ legal principles [ABA Journal]


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