When Does an Approved Lawyer Become an Unapproved Lawyer?

Posted on March 26th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

An Above the Law Blog dated February 17, 2014 by Mark Herrmann entitled, The 5 Deadly Sins of Outside Counsel, gives an interesting perspective of a former outside counsel turned in house on the lawyer approval process.   Herrmann discusses what he feels are the critical mistakes lawyers make that could result in achieving “unapproved” status. Those lawyers that might have impressed him back when he was in private practice are not cutting it now that he is on the other side.   He knows too much.   His blog mentions several reasons why he may close the door on these lawyers: poor work product, missing deadlines, making unsupportable arguments and refusing to back down, and breaching client confidences.  Lastly, he cites greed as the fifth deadly sin: lawyers that consistently put their own interests ahead of their clients’.  Is greed the final nail in the coffin for lawyers’ chances of remaining on an approved list?

Perhaps.   Herrmann mentions a litany of ways that firms deliberately place their interests above their clients’.  These blatant acts – e.g. lawyers padding of bills (and he says “you know who you are, and many of your colleagues know who you are”) is one of them.  Overstaffing is another.   We’ve seen how overstaffing can include of counsel, “temporary attorneys,” law clerks, contract attorneys and paralegals. It is typically the case that all of these individuals are not necessary to effectively represent the interests of the client.  Moreover, we’ve seen one example recently, where lawyers billed their clients hundreds of dollars an hour for temp contract lawyers when the firm paid these temp attorneys no more than $60 to $70 an hour for mostly routine work. [See Legal Fee Advisors’ publication: How much is too much when it comes to billing for Temporary Lawyers?] Overstaffing frequently results in the generation of excessive and unreasonable fees and there is little or no benefit bestowed on the client by such inefficiencies.  Herrmann would probably have no problem dropping these attorneys from his approved list.

Herrmann also points out a firm’s failure to assign work to the least expensive individual capable of doing the work.   Who is not familiar with firms that overstaff matters with higher billing senior partners when associates could complete the same work at lower rates?  Herrmann would probably agree that in many instances a vast majority of the discovery and law and motion practice can often be performed by associates, not partners.

The message here is pretty straightforward.  It’s not business as usual.  For lawyers who already have a reputation for violating Herrmann’s 5 deadly sins the chances of remaining on a client’s approved list may be dwindling.  A warning to those lawyers who are first building their reputation and have recently landed on someone’s approved panel list:  heed his advice – make sure you always put the client’s interest ahead of your own and the likelihood that you will remain on panel will be greatly improved.
R. Rosenberg

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