Law Practice Management

Ex-Client Sues Debevoise for $55M re 'Variety of Chimera & Boondoggles'

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It’s a truism that a law firm that sues a client to collect an unpaid bill is almost asking for a malpractice claim. And a $6 million unpaid-bill suit filed by Debevoise & Plimpton last year against a former client is not the exception that proves the rule.

In an answer (PDF) filed yesterday in the New York Supreme Court suit, Candlewood Timber Development asserts counterclaims seeing $55 million in damages, reports the Am Law Litigation Daily.

The counterclaims allege malpractice, breach of the firm’s representation letter and Debevoise’s alleged failure to meet “a higher standard than that required of [sic] degree of skill, care and diligence commonly possessed by a legal profession,” as required by its claimed promise to provide “legal services of the highest quality on the most cost-effective basis possible.”

As relief, Candlewood seeks not only cancellation of the legal bill and disgorgement of money already paid to Debevoise but additional damages and legal fees that it says it sustained as a result of the firm’s mishandling of the underlying Delaware Superior Court matter. It concerned claimed rain forest damage in Argentina.

Among other contentions, the ex-client claims that “D&P created and pursued a variety of chimera and boondoggles” resulting in unnecessary and duplicative costs and “staffed the case with dozens of inexperienced lawyers, summer employees, temporary clerical workers and support staff, where two or three experienced lawyers would have done the job on a far more cost-effective basis.”

At the same time that Debevoise was reviewing tens of thousands of unneeded documents and deposing dozens of extraneous witnesses, the firm failed to perform necessary litigation work critical to the successful outcome of the case, the answer alleges. “Almost all the depositions taken by D&P resulted in no benefit to Candlewood, because the witnesses were of no relevance or the D&P deposers were inept,” it contends.

In a written statement provided to the Litigation Daily by attorney Roger Bernstein, who represents Debevoise, the firm contends that it provided “superior service with a successful outcome.” In fact, it says, Candlewood achieved a result in the underlying case that was “far in excess of the value of the asset in dispute.”

The firm’s presiding partner, Martin Frederic Evans, adds that Debevoise has tried to negotiate and compromise with its ex-client over the “baseless objections” and “specious counterclaims” in the fee dispute, to no avail. “We took over a challenging case and provided legal services of the highest quality, contributing to a successful outcome and a substantial recovery for Candlewood,” he states.

Hat tip: Above the Law.

Earlier coverage: “Debevoise Sues to Collect $6M Bill; Client Cites 50 Lawyers, ‘Subpar’ Work”

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