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Is Top Representation in a High-Asset Divorce Case Worth $878,000?

In the first part of this series, we covered the history of the dispute between Washington, D.C., lawyer Glenn C. Lewis and his former high-asset divorce client Steve Firestone. Lewis had sued Firestone for $249,000 in unpaid legal fees and $253,000 in interest. Firestone countersued Lewis for excessive fees and legal malpractice by overbilling.

On September 24, Lewis agreed to settle the case and pay Firestone more than $102,000, including $25,000 in contempt-of-court sanctions. He claims to have settled for his own reasons.

No one is surprised when a highly acrimonious high-asset divorce isn't easy or inexpensive. Steve Firestone's final bill was $878,000. This lawsuit reduced it to $276,000 -- at the cost of a new round of litigation.

Expert Witness: $878,000 Divorce Bill 'Flagrantly Disproportionate to the Value of the Dispute'

The lawsuit and counterclaim between Glenn Lewis and Steve Firestone did not go well for Lewis. Firestone hired another top-tier lawyer and former state bar president Bernard J. DiMuro to analyze Lewis's billing practices. Since he wasn't a family law, DiMuro hired two more giants from the divorce bar to analyze Lewis's performance.

Firestone's experts concluded that Lewis had done a bad job. The divorce settlement Lewis had negotiated for Firestone was a lousy deal, they claimed, and the amount he charged was "flagrantly disproportionate to the value of the dispute."

Furthermore, the trio said that Lewis had padded his bill by bringing an associate along to meetings and depositions normally handled by only one lawyer. They also analyzed Lewis's billing habits generally and found that Lewis sometimes billed for more than 24 hours in a day. DiMuro says he found examples where Lewis billed clients for as much as 71 hours in a single day. If true, that would be a clear case of legal malpractice.

Lewis disputes that analysis, saying that his bookkeeping system makes it appear he is billing for more than 24 hours when he enters a large block of time all at once.

DiMuro's analysis also contends that Lewis's annual billing reveals a pattern of impossibly high hourly numbers. In a 16-month period, DiMuro claims, Lewis billed clients for 3,620 hours. That works out to 7.4 hours per day, 365 days per year, an extraordinary number when you consider that some portion of any lawyer's daily work is administrative and can't be tied to a particular client.

Then, the attorneys representing Lewis in the dispute started angering the judges. The team was slapped with five contempt citations -- a highly unusual number -- failing to respond to basic requests and follow orders. The last was a $10,515 fine against Lewis himself for failing to appear at his own deposition.

The judge issued Lewis a direct order to attend the rescheduled deposition next week or face further fines. When he realized he wasn't going to be able attend, he knew it would further enrage the court. So, he says, he decided to settle.

"He owed us more than that," Lewis says. "We earned more than that. I feel as strongly today as I did the day we filed [suit], that Mr. Firestone owed every penny of it."

Source:

"Dissolution of a relationship gets complicated for high-priced divorce attorney" (The Washington Post, September 26, 2010)

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