01:30, September 21 445 0 law.com

2017-09-21 01:30:05
RNC Payments Raise More Questions on Trump Lawyers’ Fees

John Dowd.

Photo: John Disney/ALM

Sure, a quarter-million dollars is a lot of money. But in Big Law—and for the most significant white-collar case to rattle a presidential administration in years—$230,000 doesn’t buy all that much.

The number appeared Tuesday in a story by The Washington Post that said the Republican National Committee was paying about $130,000 to Jay Sekulow and about $100,000 to John Dowd for their legal services in August defending President Donald Trump.

Top white-collar lawyers in Washington can charge $1,000 or more for their services, based on past reporting and data on billing rates over the years. The most high-profile Washington lawyers can cost upwards of $1,500 an hour, with appellate lawyers like former Solicitor General Ted Olson charging even more.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the RNC payments covered all their hours, and using a $1,000 hourly rate as a baseline hypothetical, Dowd would have billed 100 hours for Trump last month, while Sekulow would have billed 130 hours. Each figure amounts to a little more than two weeks of intense legal work in August. (In a year, top performing partners with major cases on their plates can bill as many as 2,500 or more hours—or upwards of 50 hours a week, according to The American Lawyer data.)

All in all, the latest glimpse into Trump’s legal fees raises more questions than it answers:

  • How are Dowd and Sekulow billing for the work? What are their standard rates?
  • Are there other, less high-profile lawyers these rainmakers are leveraging work down to, for responding to subpoenas, research and document discovery?
  • It’s unclear whether more junior lawyers are working with Dowd, a traditional Washington white-collar lawyer, and Sekulow, who has carved out a role defending the administration on TV. Dowd lists no other attorneys on his website. In theory, he could always contract legal work out.
  • Sekulow’s not-for-profit advocacy law group lists 13 attorneys in various executive leadership positions, and six litigation counsel.
  • How much would attorneys assisting Dowd and Sekulow charge? Those lawyers would theoretically cost less per hour, with associates nationally coming in at an average hourly rate of$300 two years ago. That price is likely higher in recent years, since most firms build in yearly rate increases and D.C. is a particularly pricey legal market for litigation.
  • Who else may be covering aspects of the president’s legal fees, and how much money will the Trump campaign contribute? We learned several weeks ago that Alan Futerfas, who was counseling Donald Trump Jr. on the investigation, was on the campaign’s recent legal services expense list, as was the Trump Corp., Jones Day and two other law firms.
  • What happened to Marc Kasowitz, the firm leader who was taking a “reduced role” in counseling Trump, but whose firm had several lawyers assisting Trump on the Russia inquiry previously?
  • How reliant is Trump’s legal team on special counsel Ty Cobb and others who work within the White House? Because of Cobb’s “in-house” posture, he won’t be billing privately or by the hour.
  • Would discounts or alternative fee structures be a possibility for Trump’s lawyers? Ethicists and lawyers at Washington firms said no, because cuts in price could amount to gifts for federal employees.
  • How does the Trump legal defense work compare to other defense lawyers responding to the investigation, such as those working for former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn? Those former officials’ legal bills quickly could amount to more than $1 million, because several lawyers advised them and because of the aggressiveness of Robert Mueller III’s investigation. The price led to Flynn’s family setting up a legal defense fund to help defray costs this week, as they continue to mount.

Ultimately, the RNC payments suggest either that Trump isn’t using his private lawyers for that much work, they’re billing below market rate, or—as seems likely—there are more lawyers and more hours billed that we’re not seeing yet.