Monday, March 13, 2006

Hour Of Reckoning

No matter what else comes about as a result of the Gomery inquiry, one thing is for certain: the lawyers all came out winners!

Taxpayers are picking up the tab for more than $1.3 million in legal fees to help Jean Chrétien and two top aides, Jean Pelletier and Jean Carle, defend their actions in the sponsorship affair, government documents show.

Just over $700,000 is earmarked to pay legal counsel for Alfonso Gagliano, the former public works minister, according to the documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

And more than $170,000 is going to cover legal bills for Chuck Guité, the disgraced former bureaucrat who ran the sponsorship program and now faces criminal charges.


The three top commission counsel signed contracts calling for a combined $3.89 million in fees by the time hearings ended last year. That included:

Chief counsel Bernard Roy, a onetime principal secretary to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who listed his fees at $1.56 million.

Co-counsel Neil Finkelstein, who filed for $1.16 million.

Associate counsel Guy Cournoyer, who billed for $1.17 million.

The documents show a further $4.1 million in fees payable to 27 other lawyers — about 10 of whom worked full-time for the inquiry, while the rest had short-term contracts.

Altogether, the Public Works Department and Privy Council Office listed their sponsorship-related legal fees — including activities other than the Gomery inquiry itself — at more than $14 million. And that doesn't count the 7 per cent GST that
applies to legal services — which works out to an additional $996,000.

One of the first lessons an articling student is taught is to docket his time, because time is ultimately the only way to measure work done on a file. Lawyers live and die by the billable hour.

But a billable hour is not necessarily an hour. The standard practice is to bill in tenths of an hour, that is, six-minute increments. A 30-second phone call, for billing purposes, is 0.1 billable hours. A two-line letter could be 0.5 hours. Two lawyers at a firm meeting with one client for one hour will both bill 1.0 billable hours, or 2.0 in total.

And not hours are billable. Generally about 70% of time worked is billed: work 10 hours in a day, bill for 7. Staff meetings, administrative functions, etc., will eat up that some of that non-billable time.

And what a lawyer can bill, in large part, depends on his year of call, regardless of whether he's any good.

So if Guy Cournoyer was billed the taxpayer for $1.17 million at $250 an hour (when he's easily billing double, even triple that in private practice), he billed 4,680 hours. Not 4,680 hours worked, mind you. Over 20 months, that's 234 hours billed a month, or 58.5 hours a week.

But assuming that he was working on government time and billing in the usual way, he certainly wasn't pulling Bay Street-style 80-hour weeks on the Gomery file. He might have been working 50-55 hours a week, and been able to bill almost all his time worked.

What, you expected him to work flat rate like some lawyer doing a residential real estate closing?

You want to be paid for a job well done, so why not pay these lawyers what they're worth?

Source: Toronto Star

No comments: