Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A million dollar flat fee? Why not?

If you're a criminal defense attorney you know by now that the State Bar of Texas is none too happy that you charge your clients a flat up-front fee for your services. It's just so out of touch with the big retainer and hourly fee structure that the white shoe firms think was inscribed on the tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain.

But, as it turns out, the problem might not be the nature of the fee arrangement - the problem may be that you just aren't charging your clients enough up front. The University of Texas has shown, once and for all, that bigger is better and of no concern to any authority.

For, you see, UT is paying a Washington, D.C. white shoe firm the grand sum of $987,000 to defend its use of affirmative action in its admissions process before the U.S. Supreme Court. My first thought was why the firm didn't just charge a cool mil. What's another $13,000 anyway?

Thanks to Ralph Haurwitz over at the Austin American-Statesman, we have a copy of the contract the Board of Regents signed with the firm of Lathan & Watkins, LLP.

Now, without getting into the merits of the arguments in favor of, or opposed to, UT's current admissions rules, is the fee worth it? There are around 50,000 students at UT-Austin, with the amount the board is spending to defend one lawsuit, those students could see their tuition reduced by almost $20,000. That would certainly go a long way to reducing the amount of debt college students are saddled with as they step out into the job market.

But let's say the university and the state are both satisfied with the representation those white shoe boys in Foggy Bottom are providing. Doesn't that make the fee worth it - regardless of how much that fee was?

And, if that's the case, what business does the State Bar have in interfering with the fee agreements we enter into with our clients? Who's in a better position to determine whether a fee is fair or not - the client seeking the services or an organization that represents corporate and insurance defense firms?


Okay, okay. My math is obviously a little shaky. Instead of $20,000 per student the actual figure would be $20.

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