Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paying for "Influence"

The Wall Street Journal reports on a recent investigation by the Department of Justice on attorneys' fees in bankruptcy, and publishes a schedule of rates charged by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.  Antonin Scalia's son Eugene bills $980.  Ted Olson, former Solicitor General, bills a mind-blowing $1,800.

But believe it or not, the numbers themselves aren't the most disturbing parts of this article.  First, there's the fact that I've seen very good attorneys get ripped by DOJ and bankruptcy courts for billing one-third these rates.  The only discernible difference was that their clients were mortals, not Olympians.

Second, there's Justice Scalia's remark about paying extra for those who are "just a little bit brighter."  If that's all the better understanding he has of paying a premium at the margin, then he needs to stop pretending he has any understanding whatsoever of economics and leave that sort of thing to Posner.

Third, Some Perspective's comment shows me he/she should just go sing "Kumbaya" around a campfire.  OK, sometimes these kids have to work all night.  Earth to No Perspective: So do I (Ask my wife.).  So does any litigator.  That doesn't mean I expect to be billing out at $500 any time soon.

Finally, the most disturbing part: NALFA's statement that Olson's rate is simply free market economics.  What do you buy for a rate like Olson's or Scalia's?  Are their legal skills so inordinate?  No.  You're buying their influence.  You're buying their phone lists, and country club memberships, whom they lunch and dine and golf with, whom they share board memberships and alumni committees with.  And they work those contacts for you to bring pressure on decision-makers.  If a normal joe like a restaurant owner pays another normal joe like a beat cop fifty bucks a week to make sure he passes the health and safety inspections, that's a felony on both sides.  If a 1%er pays another 1%er to make sure a regulation isn't passed or is only "selectively" enforced, that's just the old boy network in action.

And that stinks like last week's diapers.

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