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Law Practice Management

Debevoise Sues to Collect $6M Bill; Client Cites 50 Lawyers, ‘Subpar’ Work

Posted Dec 9, 2009 3:43 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Engaged by a timber company in 2005 to follow up on another law firm's work and prepare a corporate litigation matter for trial, Debevoise & Plimpton promised in a representation letter to work "as cost-effectively as possible."

But then the firm went ahead with a great deal of duplicative and unnecessary work, putting 50 lawyers on the case and billing some 10,000 hours at an average hourly rate of $600, a lawyer for the ex-client contended in a filing earlier this year in a prior round of the fee dispute, reports the New York Law Journal.

"And on top of that, the quality of the legal services provided was definitely subpar. Associates with no apparent skill in conducting examinations were routinely assigned to the case," states attorney Edward Hayes, a Manhattan solo practitioner, in an affirmation submitted in March as part of a motion to stay arbitration.

The firm sees the situation differently, alleging in a collection action it filed last month in Manhattan Supreme Court that it worked at "breakneck speed" to get the case, which concerned claimed rain forest damage in Argentina, ready for a 2006 trial in Delaware Superior Court.

It says an owner of Candlewood Timber Group pushed Debevoise to conduct an expensive mock jury exercise. Then the company brought in Susman Godfrey to serve as lead counsel for the trial and failed to pay Debevoise's $6 million bill, the suit recounts.

Although the jury in the Delaware case returned a verdict, a last-minute confidential settlement was reached before it was announced that included a payment to Candlewood, the complaint states.

Attorney Robert Chan of Ferber Chan Essner & Coller now represents Candlewood. He declined to discuss the suit with the legal publication, except to say that his client plans to "assert substantial defenses and counterclaims" if it cannot be settled.

Debevoise is represented by sole practitioner Roger Bernstein of Manhattan, who declined to comment.

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