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DOJ Filings Reveal Four-Figure Hourly Rates in FARA Matters

June 3, 2021 | Posted in : Fees in Transactional Matters, Hourly Rates

A recent NLJ story by Mike Scarcella, “New Covington Filings at DOJ Offer Fresh Peek at Fees and Rates” reports that Covington & Burling reported receiving more than $8 million in legal fees since October for legal services and other advocacy for the Moroccan state-owned phosphate rock miner OCP S.A., a longtime client, according to new filings submitted to the U.S. Justice Department.  Covington’s routine supplemental disclosure came as part of the law firm’s advocacy for OCP under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires law firms, public relations consultants and lobbyists to register certain work for foreign government clients.

Registrants are required to file supplemental statements every six months that describe activity performed for the foreign principal and benefits derived from it, including the receipt of income.  The provision of in-court legal services broadly is not required to be registered under the foreign-agent law, which has seen newfound attention in recent years amid the ramped-up scrutiny of foreign influence in the U.S.  The Justice Department last year said in new guidance it narrowly views what it called “normal legal representation.”  Filings made under the foreign-agent law can provide a glimpse at rates and fees and other matters that law firms typically don’t widely advertise.

Many major U.S. firms have registered work under the foreign-agent law over the years.  Other Covington clients whose engagements were reported to the Justice Department have included the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States; the government of Spain; New Zealand; and the Corporación Colombia Internacional.  The firm keeps close track on policy and enforcement changes in the foreign-agent unit at the DOJ and regularly issues client advisories.

Covington said in filings last year that it would perform policy work for OCP “including development of legislative and executive department messaging and communication strategies.”  The firm said it would also provide “assistance to OCP’s other advisors in developing communications and policy strategies related to OCP’s role in the U.S. fertilizer sector and the potential impact of tariffs on the U.S. agricultural community.”

The new supplemental disclosure showed fees related to that policy work, in addition to legal services that do not require foreign-agent registration.  Covington represents OCP in a proceeding at the International Trade Commission.  The overall amount disclosed was $8.09 million.

The FARA-registered work has included the firm’s assistance in what it described as “a public relations campaign regarding countervailing duty investigations by the U.S. government into phosphate fertilizer imports.” Components of that campaign include development of internal talking points at OCP; development of an engagement strategy with the customers of OCP; and “consulting on design and content of the www.StandwithUSFarmers.com website.”

Covington’s contract with OCP, publicly filed in October, showed the hourly rate for Bruce Wilson, a senior corporate and M&A lawyer, was $1,350.  The firm said then that junior associates were billing at $560 and the senior partners at $2,250.  Major firms tend to review and adjust rates at the start of the year.

A recently disclosed client contract between Covington and a public university in Oregon showed a range from $595 hourly for junior associates—a 6% uptick over the prior year—to $2,295 for senior partners, a 2% increase over 2020.  The contract, for a workplace culture investigation, showed former Obama-era U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was billing at $2,295 and Nancy Kestenbaum, co-chair of the firm’s white-collar practice, was billing $1,445 hourly.