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Is $400 an Hour Pro Bono?

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In this prior post, we discussed whether discounts given by solo and small firm lawyers on work performed for low income clients might count as pro bono.   For those who don’t endorse that idea, consider this:  big law firm Skadden Arps wants to claim that its work to bring a school district into compliance with the American Disabilities Act is pro bono, not withstanding that the firm is seeking $9 million in attorneys fees.

According to the this article, Pro Bono Case May Bring Windfall, ABA e-report (2/4/05), Skadden and another civil rights firm in the case spent 20,000 hours in lawyer and paralegal time on the case and are seeking fees of $9 million.  I did the math and even subtracting $1 million for costs, $8 million over 20,000 hours comes to an average of $400/hour.  And that average presumably includes paralegal time.  In fact, the article notes that one of the Skadden partners involved in the case has a billing fee of $810 an hour.  Moreover, apparently, because of the amount of resources, the firm went all out in many of its pleadings, using a “cannon ball” to respond to a “tennis ball.”

So how is $400 an hour pro bono whereas a solo charging $50 or $75 an hour is not?  If someone has an explanation, I’d love to hear it.

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