April 16, 2021
A recent Law.com story by Mike Scarcella, “Covington’s Eric Holder Bills at $2.295 Hourly, New Legal Services Contract Shows,” reports that Covington & Burling partner Eric Holder Jr., the Obama administration’s first U.S. attorney general and a veteran Washington lawyer, is billing at $2,295 hourly, according to a contract the law firm signed with a public university to conduct an internal investigation about workplace culture. Holder is Covington’s lead partner on the legal services engagement with Oregon Health & Science University. The school announced its retention of Covington in late March to lead a “comprehensive, independent investigation of institutional harassment, discrimination, retaliation and racism.”
Covington and other firms have long been hired to conduct internal investigations at companies and other institutions, but in many instances the engagement letters, revealing rates and the scope of legal services, are not matters of public record. ALM obtained Covington’s contract through a public records request. Holder’s $2,295 billing rate puts him at the high end of hourly figures. Billing at other elite firms such as Weil, Gotshal Manges and Kirkland & Ellis have recently approached $2,000.
“Mr. Holder and Covington have conducted examinations of workplace culture and issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion for corporations including Uber, Starbucks and Airbnb,” the university said in announcing the retention of the Washington-based law firm. The announcement noted that “Holder and the Covington team are also currently assessing race, equity, inclusion and diversity policies and practices at Seattle Children’s Hospital.”
Holder is working with Covington partner Nancy Kestenbaum, co-chair of the firm’s white-collar defense and investigations practice group and a former member of the firm’s management committee. Kestenbaum is billing at $1,445 an hour, the law firm’s engagement letter said. Covington said it agreed to discount its rates by 10%.
“Hourly rates for other lawyers range from $595 for junior associates to $2,295 for senior partners; and for legal assistants from $290 to $545,” the firm said in its engagement letter. The firm said it reviews and adjusts rates yearly as of Jan. 1, “although there are circumstances in which we may adjust rates at other times.” Part of the contract contained information that the university would not release. The information pertained to clients Covington is advising on clinical trials being conducted at the university.
“As you recognize, we are a large law firm with multiple practices in multiple offices throughout the world, and we represent many different clients in many different industries, including clients who are competitors of each other and sometimes adversaries in legal matters,” Holder wrote. “In taking on this representation, we commit that we will not represent any other client in any matter adverse to you that is substantially related to this matter.”
A private law firm charging a public client is not rare. Public records show major U.S. law firms have charged local or state government clients to take a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not every engagement, however, is charged. Some work is done pro bono.