Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another Law Firm Seeks Big Fees From Lawsuit Loser In Pro Bono Case

The National Law Journal reported earlier this year (at Law.com):

  • A Seattle school district that lost a case before the U.S. Supreme Court is arguing that its opposing counsel, Davis Wright Tremaine, should not be entitled to nearly $1.8 million in attorney fees because it took the case pro bono. It is the second high-profile case in a year challenging fees collected by firms in pro bono cases.


  • In arguing against the fees, the school district has raised the increasingly contentious issue of whether large law firms that successfully represent clients on a pro bono basis are entitled to seek substantial legal fees from the defendant.


  • Davis Wright Tremaine isn't alone in facing questions about fees in pro bono cases. Last year, a federal judge awarded nearly $1 million in attorney fees, costs and prejudgment interest to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in a case involving workers at a restaurant in New York's Chinatown. Chan v. Triple 8 Palace, No. 1:03-cv-06048 (S.D.N.Y.). The New York firm took the case pro bono in an attempt to collect unpaid tips on behalf of the workers. The firm succeeded. But its request for attorney fees turned heads, especially since the workers received about $700,000.


  • Seeking legal fees in pro bono cases isn't new, said Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. Her group encourages firms to seek legal fees in pro bono cases -- if nothing else, to serve as a deterrent to others, she said. But she acknowledged that, in recent years, as more large firms with higher fees take on major public interest cases, attorney fee awards have skyrocketed.

For more, see Pro Bono Case Triggers a Fee Fight (Two recent instances of large firms collecting large fees in pro bono cases point to an increasingly controversial issue).

For the earlier story on Skadden Arps $1 million fee award, see New York Law Journal: NY BigLaw Leader Scores $1 Million Fee in Pro Bono Case.

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