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. The founder and former chairman of the Board of The National Association of Legal Search Consultants, and a certified employment consultant, Eolis summed up one of the fundamental business issues in the case; fuzziness as to whether or not the parties had a valid contract.
She cautions attorney search specialists who make contingency placements to be very meticulous in their dealings with law firms in their placement fee arrangements. “They will save themselves one big headache by confirming the fee arrangements before the first appointment for every deal,” says this expert with with more than four decades of experience in the industry.
Ms. Eolis also warns search firms of the pitfalls in permitting the client to set up the fee/guarantee schedule for a recruiter’s services. She asks rhetorically “Would a law firm look to its client to draft the Firm’s engagement letter?”
In the instant matter, Miles took the long road to vindication, and was left to pay hefty legal fees, but David shamed Goliath, leaving Bingham to explain lamely, “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 by plaintiff and his counsel of the 1.5 million dollar invoice, and had been asked to consider, as part of 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 pertaining to the outcome of the case by 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 she zeroed in on a key part of Bingham’s strategy; a claim of no contract due to a stale fee agreement that should not be applied. After reviewing the matter, Eolis concluded that the plaintiff’s development of the case was more about industry practices well-known to the law firm and a common sense analysis of the facts. Eolis quipped, “The defendant did a great job in proving my position! The plaintiff focused strictly on the facts. And plaintiff counsel integrated defendants defense and plaintiff’s facts to win the day. For Eolis, the case ended as a walk in the park and no need for testimony on her expert report.
EOLIS said, “As plaintiff’s consultant I put on the table the customs and practices in the industry that the defendant had attempted to circumvent or subvert in an effort to justify refusal to pay. The winning strategy was the one two punch of Miles and his counsel; together they exposed Goliath’s bullying tactics as a mere camouflage of simple facts that supported full payment of the fee plus interest and more.
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.