This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I have been a member of the Utah State Bar for 33 years. I do not know anything about land-use issues and have no idea if Utah would win or lose if we file a land-transfer lawsuit. What I do know are the different ways to fund lawsuits (e.g. how attorneys get paid).
The 145-page legal analysis submitted by outside (aka out of state) attorneys cost $500,000. It was reported these attorneys billed $500 per hour, which is higher than most Utah lawyers' billing rates. Even so, by my calculations this means they spent 1,000 hours on the project. If the work was done by two lawyers, then each worked 500 hours on this project. This means that, if they worked on the project every day for eight hours, they each did nothing else for over 12 weeks or three months. There are only so many clauses in the U.S. Constitution, and only so many legal cases (precedents) that apply to this legal question. Two lawyers doing nothing else could easily locate them all in one week. And those same two lawyers doing nothing else could read each of these cases in one week. If they took two weeks to do nothing but think about and discuss the issues in light of what they read, that would still leave them two months to write and edit their 145-page treatise.
I have not read the document, but it is reported that these lawyers believe Utah will win the case. They want to charge $14 million to win this case for Utah. This may be a bargain for Utah, but what would be a better bargain would be to sign a contingent fee contract with these lawyers. Under this type of agreement, these lawyers would only get their $14 million if they win the case. And, to make it more attractive to the lawyers, the agreement will call for them to get $17 million if they win. As they are confident they will win, they should have no qualms in signing such a contract that covers their expenses and gives them $3 million in profit. Or they could agree to bill $200 per hour with a cap of $5 million, and the balance of $12 million will only be paid if they win. This will give these confident lawyers some "skin in the game," which is only fair.
Another option is to put the contract out for bid to all Utah attorneys. My law firm would have no interest in bidding, as we have no expertise in land-use cases. There are, however, many excellent Utah lawyers who could do what is necessary to win the case. Some might actually bid less than $14 million to do the work. At $500 per hour, this amount of money would equal 28,000 hours of work. If these firms were to have five lawyers work just on this case for 2,000 hours per year (at 50 weeks of 40-hour work weeks) that would total 10,000 hours a year. If this was done for two years, it would still leave 8,000 hours. And, who knows, maybe some Utah law firms might decide they can do this job for a mere $10 million, saving us all money.
Hopefully, the $500,000 document that has already been prepared includes all the pertinent constitutional provisions and cases. If not, how can the lawyers correctly analyze the issue and advise the Legislature to proceed? So what will these same lawyers do for the 28,000 hours/$14 million they want to bill Utah? I have no idea, but let's spend our tax dollars wisely rather than give these same out of state people a "blank check."
Robert Gilchrist is a personal injury attorney in Salt Lake City.