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Category: UK / International

IBA Panel: Narrow The Gender Hourly Billing Rate Gap in Law

November 4, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Carolina Bolado, “Start With Fixing Gender Billable Rate Gap, IBA Panel Says” reports that law firms looking to retain their female talent need to start by narrowing the billable rate gap, which experts at the International Bar Association conference in Miami called the "Rosetta Stone" of the gender gap issue.  At an IBA panel on how to keep women in the profession, Michael Ellenhorn, CEO of Decipher, a data intelligence firm focused on the lateral legal market, said the data show women routinely bill more hours than their male counterparts but recover less money for that work.  Addressing this gap in billable rates is where firms need to start, he said.

"It's the baseline where this problem can be solved," Ellenhorn said.  "At a minimum, women partners need to be compensated and remunerated at the same rate as their male counterparts.  From an objective standpoint, that is one way we can move the ball down the pitch."  The panelists, a global group gathered together at the IBA conference to discuss the gender inequality problem, said part of the issue is that many managing partners don't even realize that there is a problem.

Hilarie Bass, the former co-president of Greenberg Traurig LLP who now runs the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion, said that a study conducted during her tenure as American Bar Association president in 2017-2018 found that 91% of law firm leaders believe they are advocates of gender diversity.  The study found three-quarters of leaders believe that they are completely objective and committed to elevating women to equity partner status and that they are successful in retaining women.

But the female respondents to the survey did not agree.  A majority of women in the survey said they were overlooked for advancement and were compensated at a lower level than comparable male colleagues, Bass said.  Many also felt they were treated as a token representative for diversity, which Bass said is becoming more of an issue as clients demand diverse legal teams.  Bass said women reported being brought in to pitch the client but being sidelined not long afterward.

Ellenhorn said firms need to start by measuring data, in particular the comparison between average realized rates for male and female partners and how the firm apportions origination credit.  "It's very simple to do," Ellenhorn said.  "Those two data points will get you a long way to understanding what the mix is in each of your firms."  He added that his group has found that men tend to over-forecast their books of business and then underperform, while women in general under-forecast and overperform.  Firms need to stop penalizing women for doing this, not just in the lateral market but during firms' business and budget planning processes, he said.

Ellenhorn said his organization has looked at thousands of lateral partner questionnaires, which are forms lawyers fill out when they move from one firm to another.  He said that while women make up just one-fifth of equity partners, they make up 31% of lateral partner moves.  "You start to scratch your head a little bit about what is going on in the market," Ellenhorn said.  And unlike their male counterparts, women depart and oftentimes within the data set they don't show up somewhere else. In the last two years in the U.S., that's about 8,000 women partners who have likely disappeared from the profession."

UK Authorities May Feel Sting From ‘Loser Pays’ Ruling

May 27, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Christopher Crosby, “Authorities May Feel The Sting From Loser Pays Ruling” reports that the U.K. Supreme Court opened the door to public authorities being forced to pay defendants' costs from failed enforcement actions, but attorneys say it is too soon to know whether that risk will deter agencies from bringing cutting-edge cases.  Britain's highest court has ruled that the Competition and Markets Authority might have to cover the legal costs of drugmaker Pfizer and a distributor, Flynn Pharma, after the watchdog's market abuse case against the two companies fell short.

Britain's highest court ruled, in a unanimous 55-page decision handed down, that costs could follow a failed enforcement action because there is no automatic presumption that authorities do not pay for legal fees when they lose cases.  Businesses and trade organizations have applauded the development, which they say will help defendants with small budgets recover their legal fees if they can prove that an enforcement case was groundless.

But the ruling, written by Justice Vivien Rose, does not mean that regulators will always be on the hook for costs — that issue will be determined by the trial court or tribunal on a case-by-case basis.  But the justices said the Court of Appeal was wrong to assume that costs automatically have a chilling effect on regulators in every case.  "The Court of Appeal had created an unhelpful precedent, which puts a potential appellant in the unenviable position of being forced to pay the CMA's legal costs if their appeal failed yet prevented them recovering their own legal costs if their appeal succeeded," Robert Vidal, a competition partner at Pinsent Masons LLP, said.

The competition watchdog fined the drug companies £84.2 million ($106 million at today's rates) in 2016. A three-year investigation had concluded the companies had overcharged the National Health Service for the anti-epilepsy drug phenytoin sodium.  But the Competition Appeal Tribunal found errors in the regulator's analysis in 2020 and ordered it to reassess the fairness of the prices.  Those findings were upheld by the Court of Appeal.  The tribunal then ordered the CMA to pay part of Flynn and Pfizer's multimillion-pound costs after concluding that the default position in cases involving regulators was that the loser bears the burden of costs.

Although the losing side in litigation usually pays the winner's costs, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the tribunal.  The appellate court ruled in 2019 that the "starting position" is that public agencies should not be made to pay for trying to do their job — even if they are unsuccessful in court.  Overturning the lower court's findings, the justices said the Court of Appeal was wrong to overturn the Competition Markets Authority's costs ruling and instructed that there would be no order about costs.

The appellate court had looked at a line of cases beginning with Bradford Metropolitan District Council v. Booth in 2000 and found that the starting assumption for courts was that all public bodies are protected from costs when they lose a case.  Justice Rose said that, even though those cases created a strong preference against deterring regulators, it cannot be assumed that every case involving every regulator carries that risk.

In the case of the CMA, the watchdog can offset its litigation costs against the penalties it imposes, the Supreme Court said.  The competition authority incurred £2 million in legal costs during the last year, which it covered with £56.7 million in penalties handed out, justices noted.  Justice Rose said the "way that the functions of the CMA are funded dispels any plausible concern that its conduct will be influenced by the risk of adverse costs orders."

Robert Vidal said that the CMA "already has all the financial and legal resources of the state behind it, so it was difficult to understand why the Court of Appeal felt it needed to provide the CMA with an additional advantage on exposure to legal costs."  Stijn Huijts, a former CMA director and partner at Geradin Partners, said that it was a "bridge too far" for justices to accept that a public body like the CMA should be shielded from adverse cost awards.

"It's important to recognize that this doesn't mean all costs of litigants like Pfizer will fall to the CMA from now on," Huijts said.  "Nevertheless, the CMA will be in a position where it will need to challenge costs claimed in individual cases and, in most cases that it loses, it will at least need to pay part of the litigants' costs from public money."  Sophie Lawrance, a Bristows partner who acted for two pharmaceutical groups in the CMA case, said the issue was of particular concern to companies active in the pharmaceutical industry, which may have been discouraged against appealing future infringement decisions by the watchdog.

In the last year the CMA has fined several drugmakers in complex medication-pricing cases, finding in February that the cost for anti-nausea medication and thyroid medication was excessive.  In one case, Advanz Pharma Corp. and two private equity firms, Hg and Cinven, have asked the Competition Appeal Tribunal to annul a £100 million ($126 million) fine over Liothyronine tablets, which are used to treat thyroid hormone deficiency.

Drugmaker Allergan and four other pharmaceutical companies are also appealing against a record £260 million fine from the competition watchdog for allegedly abusing their market dominance over an adrenal drug.  Lawrence said that the Supreme Court's decision "ensures that meritorious appeals — which can result in crucial guidance for the sector as a whole — are not deterred."

The Supreme Court Justices highlighted the fact that costs have not prevented the CMA from investigating large companies such as Google and Apple.  The regulator is looking into whether their duopoly on the "mobile ecosystem" threatens competition for digital services, setting up potential enforcement actions.  "Whether this will have a chilling effect on the CMA will in reality probably depend on how it fares in a number of high-profile cases making their way through the courts now, and in investigations against digital giants like Apple and Google," Huijts said.  "Win most of those, and this chapter will be easily forgotten. Lose the majority, and the watchdog may grow more timid."

Brown Rudnick Accused of $22M in Overbilling

February 25, 2022

A recent Reuters story by David Thomas, “Ex-Client Wans $22 mln From Brown Rudnick, Saying Lawyers Overbilled” reports that an Austrian multinational construction company went on the offensive in a fee dispute with U.S. law firm Brown Rudnick, claiming the firm routinely overbilled it and demanding $22 million.  Brown Rudnick sued Christof Industries Global GmbH in September, alleging the industrial plant builder owed $8 million in attorney fees and interest from an international arbitration over a failed construction project.

But the law firm racked up more than $6 million in fees after promising in writing to not exceed a $2 million fee estimate, Christof alleged in its countersuit, filed in Boston federal court.  The law firm improperly overbilled, Christof alleged, saying one attorney billed more than $145,000 for 231 hours preparing to examine one witness.  The law firm billed more than 40 hours for assembling binders, the company said.

"In a number of time entries that verge on satire, Brown Rudnick attorneys even billed for drafting and corresponding about a proposal for their 'binder compilation strategy,'" Christof said in its suit.

The dispute stems from Brown Rudnick's work arbitrating a conflict arising from a Christof subsidiary's work as a contractor during the construction of a fiberboard production plant in South Carolina.  Christof said it signed an agreement with the firm so that its legal costs would not exceed $40,000 a month, plus a $200,000 retainer up front.  But it said Brown Rudnick billed more than $250,000, not including the retainer, just in its first month.

A panel awarded Christof more than $24.5 million in damages in the underlying arbitration, which was offset by about $20 million in advanced contract payments the company had received.  The final award was for $6.68 million.

Hausfeld Doesn’t Have to Disclose Fees in UK Google Suit

February 7, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Silvia Martelli, “Hausfeld Doesn’t Have to Disclose Fees in £920M Google Suit,” reports that a tribunal has ruled that a woman bringing a proposed £920 million ($1.3 billion) antitrust class action against Google does not have to disclose the fees her lawyers at Hausfeld & Co. LLP stand to collect if the suit succeeds.  The Competition Appeal Tribunal found that Liz Coll, who brought a proposed class action against Google on behalf of 19.5 million consumers, does not have to reveal the percentage of any damages that Hausfeld will get as a success fee.  Coll also doesn't have to share the premiums on her litigation insurance, because they are not relevant to the lawsuit.

Coll alleges that Google has violated U.K. and European competition law by taking a 30% commission every time consumers in Britain buy applications, pay subscriptions or make purchases through the company's Play Store.  The claim follows a similar action filed against Apple at the same court in May.  The tribunal rejected Google's accusations that the success fee Coll agreed to pay her lawyers at Hausfeld must be disclosed as there is a potential conflict of interest between the class members and the solicitors.

There might be "an incentive" for the lawyers to ensure that there is "a sufficient pot" of undistributed damages so that the success fees are paid in full, because success fees are paid out of damages before they are distributed, Google said.  But the tribunal rejected the argument, saying that the bulk of the allegation is that there is a risk that the legal team will not comply with their professional obligations.  "We do not accept that that assumption is an appropriate one to make in this case, in the absence of any real evidential basis," the judgment said.

Google also argued that it is important to be able to strip out the deposit premium from the total budget to see what funding is available for each phase of the litigation.  But the tribunal said that Coll, formerly head of digital at Consumers International, a global organization for consumer groups, disclosed comprehensive information about the litigation budget, set at £11.3 million, and correctly broken down into phases of the litigation.

Dentons Wants Out of Japanese Billionaire’s $50M Fee Dispute

December 18, 2021

A recent Law360 story by David Thomas, “Dentons Wants Out of Japanese Billionaire’s $50M Fee Fight With Law Firm,” reports that Global law firm Dentons asked to withdraw from representing a Japanese pachinko billionaire in a $50 million legal fee fight with Chicago-based litigation firm Bartlit Beck.  Dentons partners Alex Gude, Meaghan Klem Haller and Robert Richards told U.S. District Judge John Kness in Chicago that there was "an irretrievable breakdown" in their attorney relationship with client Kazuo Okada.

They did not say why the relationship soured but said Okada consents to the firm's withdrawal.  They asked for deadlines in the case to be extended by two months so Okada can find new counsel.  The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Court of Appeals last month appeared skeptical of Dentons' arguments that Okada shouldn't be forced to pay $50 million in legal fees to Bartlit Beck stemming from an earlier court fight with Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Okada hired Bartlit Beck to represent him in a lawsuit against Wynn Resorts after the U.S. casino giant forced Okada's Universal Entertainment Corp to sell back its stake in the company at a discount following an internal anti-corruption investigation.  That case settled in March 2018 for $2.6 billion.

Bartlit Beck, a firm specializing in high-stakes litigation founded by ex-Kirkland & Ellis partners, took Okada to arbitration after he failed to pay $50 million it claimed he owed in legal fees.  Okada withdrew from the arbitration proceedings days before a U.S.-based evidentiary hearing in October 2019, arguing his engagement agreement with the firm was invalid.  Okada also said he was unable to travel due to his health.  The arbitration panel awarded Bartlit Beck $50 million by default in 2019.  Kness ordered Okada to pay Bartlit Beck in March, sparking the appeal.  The 7th Circuit's decision is still pending.