1 Legal Fees Law and Management John W. Toothman William G. Ross CAROLINA ACADEMIC PRESS Durham, North Carolina
2 Copyright 2002 John W. Toothman and William G. Ross All Rights Reserved. ISBN: LCCN: to apply Carolina Academic Press 700 Kent Street Durham, North Carolina Telephone (919) Fax (919) Printed in the United States of America.
3 Dedication This book is dedicated by John Toothman to Elizabeth McGee and William Toothman and by William Ross to Vernon and Mardelle Ross, and dedicated as well To those lawyers who put professional duty before financial rewards, who uphold the highest traditions of the profession even as others tarnish it with their greed, and who recognize that representing a client is an opportunity to do good, not just an opportunity to do well.
4 Preface Upon arriving at the pearly gates, a lawyer checked in with Saint Peter. Glancing at his records, Saint Peter exclaimed: You are in remarkable condition for a man of 107. Hoping for a reprieve, the lawyer corrected Saint Peter: I m only 58, not 107. There must be some mistake. What gave you the idea I was 107? Saint Peter replied: We pulled your billing records. A common joke. Eben Moglen, now a Columbia law professor, actually did bill 27 hours for Cravath, Swaine [in one day, by claiming he worked around the clock while traveling from the East Coast to California]. Mary Ann Glendon, A Nati on Under Law yers at 30 ( ). Even as the public complains about lawyers and their outrageous fees, a few lawyers are finding new ways to expand, or cross, the boundaries of reasonable or legitimate billing. Like the law of legal fees, the public s perception of lawyers and their fees is shaped by the excesses of a few. While one lawyer is trying to justify his $500 hourly rates, or his even more embarrassing rate of $200 per hour for a freshly minted lawyer, his partner may be billing the same client $25 for his lunch or $1 a page for faxes. There are law firms billing for the time of people as lawyers who are not licensed to practice law that, they claim, is just a technicality. Other firms expect lawyers, either explicitly or by implication, to bill 2,000 or more hours a year, whether that time is valuable or not. Part of the problem is that lawyers have a hard time showing why their services should be ix
5 so expensive. Finding the value in legal services is often difficult, especially if the lawyer s reaction to such questions is defensive. This book has two distinct parts. In the first part, Chapters 2 through 7, the law of legal fees is summarized and explained. This includes both fees paid by clients and fees paid by others, through fee-shifting, for example. We have not attempted to cite every existing authority. Instead, we attempt to distill and harmonize this subject. Every lawyer and client should find this part of the book useful. The second part of the book, Chapters 8 through 14, cover the subject of legal fee management. This part of the book explains some of the tools that can be used to manage legal fees, including fee agreements and alternatives to hourly fees. This portion of the book is designed for clients, including in-house counsel, but should also be helpful for lawyers and law firms. Although we attempt to deal with fees for all types of legal services, many of our examples and most of the cases grow out of litigation and the legal fees charged therein. We owe special thanks to our publisher and colleagues for their assistance, direct and indirect, in writing this book. We especially wish to thank Keith Sipe of Carolina Academic Press and Max Weintraub, Jane Morrison, David White, and Susan Burroughs of The Devil s Advocate, and Joseph D. Wilkinson II of the Cumberland School of Law for their assistance. Visit for additional information. John Toothman and William G. Ross
6 About the Authors John W. Toothman is the president of The Devil s Advocate, a legal fee management and litigation consulting firm, and LitWatch, a litigation news service. He received a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Vi rginia, where he was a National Science Foundation Fellow. He received his law degree from Harv a rd Law School (with honors) and has been a trial lawyer with the U.S. D e p a rtment of Justice and in private law firms. He is the co-author of Trial Practi ce Check l i sts ( West 2001) and the author of numero u s a rticles about legal fees, trial practice, and litigation management. M r. Toothman received the 1995 Ross Essay Aw a rd from the American Bar Association. Vi s i t L i t Watch.com and DevilsAdvocate.com for more inform a t i o n. William G. Ross is a professor of law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he teaches ethics, civil pro c e d u re, constitutional law, and legal history. A graduate of Stanford and Harv a rd Law School, he practiced law in New York City for nine years before joining the Cumberland faculty in Professor Ross s writings about legal fees include num e rous articles and a book, The Hon e st Hour: The Ethics of Ti m e - Bas ed Billing by Attorn eys ( C a rolina Academic Press, 1996). He is also the author of articles on a wide range of other legal subjects and has published two books about American constitutional history. e d u. xi
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