Outside Legal Counsel
The Office of Attorney General typically handles more than 3,000 civil cases at any given time. Of those, approximately 95 percent are litigated by Special Assistant Attorneys General who are full-time state employees.
In accordance with state law, the Attorney General also periodically enters into contracts with private lawyers and law firms outside of the Office. In the small percentage of cases handled by private counsel, the Attorney General enters into fixed hourly rate contracts, or, in very limited instances, contingency fee contracts.
All contracts between the Attorney General’s Office and private attorneys are freely available for inspection and are a matter of public record. Regardless of the type of contract entered into, the Attorney General’s Office maintains full control over the litigation. The office supervises the work of all attorneys under contract and decides all litigation strategy matters.
The overwhelming majority of contracts with private counsel are fixed hourly rate contracts. When additional counsel is hired on a fixed hourly rate contract, it is usually because the litigation involves highly specialized areas of knowledge or practice in which the State of Mississippi would be better served by an attorney with specific expertise in a particular litigation area, such as eminent domain, bankruptcy, or copyright infringement. There are also a small number of instances in which private counsel are retained because ethics rules create a conflict which prohibit a case from being handled internally.
When selecting outside counsel, the Attorney General first seeks qualified Mississippi-based attorneys. Just as the Attorney General’s office staff represents the diversity of the state, with a significant number of women and minority attorneys, the Attorney General strives to include Mississippi-based firms led by women and minorities whenever possible.
The Attorney General diligently negotiates the lowest possible fees and compares rates between interested and qualified law firms when entering into hourly-rate contracts. Those rates are typically much lower than hourly rates paid by private clients for similar work. Also, the Attorney General requires the same detailed hourly invoices and time records as do private clients. As would a private client, the Attorney General’s Office reviews the hourly time sheets of the private attorneys and does not pay for hours or expenses the office deems to be excessive.
Of the small number of cases in which private attorneys are used, an even smaller number are handled on a contingency fee contract basis. Contingency fee contracts are used when the litigation will require large expenditures of funds for numerous attorneys, expert witnesses, travel, and document management. The Office of the Attorney General does not have a sufficient number of attorneys to devote to such projects or the budget funds necessary to cover expenses.
Private attorneys on contingency fee contracts are paid only in the event of a successful outcome for the state, eliminating any financial risk or impact to the state budget. Thus, the State bears no costs whatsoever unless the litigation is successful, and most often, legal fees and expenses are deducted as a small portion of a judgment or settlement.
The Attorney General’s Office standard contingency fee contract contains a fee schedule that is significantly below the rates paid by private clients and is also below established bar rates. A private attorney may be authorized to pursue a contingency fee case on behalf of the State, if he or she brings the particular matter to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office.
Before agreeing to a contingency fee contract, the Attorney General first determines whether the particular matter has merit and will benefit the State; whether the case can be handled internally; and, if not, whether private counsel has sufficient resources and skill to handle the litigation. Attorneys are required to associate with additional counsel that have the resources to handle litigation if the primary attorneys do not have those resources. Likewise, out-of-state law firms under contract with the State are encouraged to associate with Mississippi firms, including those that represent the diversity of the state and are headed by women and minorities. Local firms have Mississippi-licensed attorneys most familiar with the state’s judicial system and should be relied upon for that expertise, as well as be utilized for appropriate discovery and legal research issues in national and international litigation. Local counsel are invaluable in helping secure documents from various state agencies for the litigation and to file and coordinate litigation in local courts.
All contracts of employment of outside counsel are public record. The Office of Attorney General is diligent in its efforts to make these available to interested persons. The following contracts represent active contingency fee cases. This list will be updated periodically as cases are resolved and new cases are added.
Contingency Fee Contracts – Click on the title to view the contract.
ATTORNEY GENERAL CONTINGENT FUND LEGAL FEES AND EXPENSES
Click HERE for the most recent report of legal fees and expenses related to contingent fund payments.