Last month, The AmLaw Daily reported on a $1.5 million fee dispute between the legal recruiting company, Alan Miles & Associates and Bingham McCutchen, the law firm that acquired more than 100 lawyers from McKee Nelson, last summer. In a final ruling dated May 17th, Miles was awarded nearly 1.9 million dollars including the full placement fee invoiced, interest and court costs.
In a written statement, reported by The AmLaw Daily, Bingham “remained as curious as ever in its interpretation of facts related to this case” says Wendeen H. Eolis, Chairman of Eolis International Group.
Ms. Eolis had more than casual knowledge about this case; she had been designated as plaintiff’s expert. Founder of The National Association of Legal Search Consultants, Eolis spoke to us about the case and its favorable meaning for the legal search industry while cautioning, “Attorney search specialists who make contingency placements need to be very meticulous in their dealings with law firms in their placement fee arrangements.”
She warns in particular of the perils of relying upon a fee agreement that precedes the deal in question. She also sees as folly, the notion of inviting the client to set up the fee/guarantee schedule for a recruiter’s services, asking rhetorically “Would the law firm ask their clients to draft their engagement letters?”
In the instant matter, according to The AmLaw Daily’s report, Bingham virtually dismissed its defeat, explaining, “Alan Miles & Associates demanded $5 million dollars and received $1.5 million.” Ms. Eolis says her understanding of the facts was a bit different, noting that she had been advised of the 1.5 million dollar invoice, and had been asked to consider, in her preparation as an expert, the reasonableness of a 1.5 million dollar fee and not a 5 million dollar fee.
She also commented that Bingham parsed information in saying that Alan Miles received $1.5 million based on the award published by retired US District Court Judge Lourdes Baird, the arbitrator in the dispute. Miles not only received a ruling that provides for payment of its full placement fee for which they had invoiced the firm, but also for interest and court costs of another $380,000 plus.
Based on her lengthy experience and expertise in arbitrating search fee disputes and adding her review of the facts in the case together with relevant research she had performed, Ms. Eolis concluded long before trial, the case would be a “slam dunk” for the plaintiff if business principles, customs and practices in the legal search industry, and common sense were the determining factors. Ultimately, no expert services were required in the case. She quipped, “I was happy to leave the legal issues to the lawyers!”
According to Mr. Miles, he never considered backing away from a fight, if necessary, given his certitude that he was entitled to be paid the fee he had earned. We agree.
Ms Eolis will soon report further, on our position.