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Legal Fees and the Media: The Motor City Amassing High Legal Fees in Media Management of Bankruptcy Case

As reported by the Detroit Free Press, the law firm currently representing Detroit’s retirees in the current bankruptcy case is being “challenged for its practice of charging thousands of dollars for media relations services.” The law firm, Dentons, has billed the city of Detroit $3.16 million in the first quarter, with about $27,000 per month “to monitor media coverage, prepare summaries of media coverage and to respond to press reports.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has appointed Robert Fishman to monitor the fees charged by the law firm’s and any professional advisors that are charging the city in regards to the bankruptcy case. Fishman is questioning the billing practice of Dentons of invoicing for time spent on media management. Fishman is currently examining, “the propriety of Dentons, a law firm, billing for all media activities undertaken,” and while “certain media activities fall within the scope of providing legal services, others do not.” The types of activities that do not fall within the scope of providing legal services are drafting entire press reports and reviewing newspaper articles. Denton is defending its billing practices stating, “This is something that the mediators and the court has even encouraged us to do – to communicate with the retirees through via [sic] the media.” The firm has already agreed to reduce its legal fees and expenses by $7,000 after initial questioning by Fishman.

The city of Detroit pays the legal bills of Dentons even though the retiree’s goals may at times be at odds with the goals of the city in the bankruptcy proceedings. However, Dentons is not the largest source of legal fees that Detroit is paying. Currently the law firm of Jones Day has accrued the largest amount of legal fees, currently reaching the number of “$8.7 million for the first three months of the year. “

Fishman’s report has been presented to Judge Rhodes, however, whether or not the Judge has the authority to deny the legal fees that Denton has charged is still unknown.

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