- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

A lawyers' "fee frenzy" over the Enron bankruptcy already has produced billings for $18 million, including $450 per hour for a lawyer assigned to read newspapers, Legal Times reported yesterday.
Total attorneys' fees for the nation's largest bankruptcy likely will be a staggering $500 million to $1 billion, the newspaper said. Such fees are paid ahead of creditors.
In Manhattan, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez named a committee March 21 to set billing procedures, but did not appoint the fee examiner requested by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. The court must approve any billings before they are paid.
Over the first two grueling months, seven key firms handling the Enron bankruptcy and Ernst & Young accountants billed for 33,575 hours. The work was done by 425 lawyers and accountants, 125 paralegals and other staff.
Professional fees for that period just the beginning total $17,985,338. Another $1,198,416 was charged for expenses as picayune as the $20 meal tab at the Tick Tock Diner for a late-working senior partner who earns $620 per hour.
The top hourly rate billed was $725 by creditors' lawyer Trayton M. Davis. Enron wanted to pay Houston lawyer Stephen Susman $900 an hour, but that was rejected, according to records, and Mr. Susman cut his fee to $500 per hour.
The Legal Times reporting delved into such details as the fact that New York bankruptcy lawyer Thomas A. Roberts alone billed $144,060 in hourly fees for December, when he put in 205.8 hours at $700.
The Weil Gotshal & Manges partner had the highest monthly total. But senior associate Kelli Walsh from the same firm may have billed her career's best month ever, asking $141,170. She worked 371.5 hours at $380 per hour from Dec. 2, when the bankruptcy was filed, through Dec. 31. That averages 12 hours and 23 minutes a day including weekends, Christmas and New Year's Eve.
"I guarantee no one alive could keep up that pace," said the 31-year-old lawyer, who was tied so tightly to managing Weil Gotshal's 40-lawyer "war room" in Houston that her husband substituted as host for a friend's baby shower and brought clean laundry from Dallas.
Weil Gotshal billed a total of $6.2 million for 14,835.5 hours in December. For creditors seeking payment from Enron, the New York firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy billed $550,146 for 1,612 hours.
"This isn't a story about overbilling," Legal Times editor Richard Barbieri said yesterday. "We think you can tell a lot about how a case is being lawyered when you know who is paid how much to lawyer it."
Mr. Barbieri said he has heard no feedback yet for disclosing so many intimate details such as huge travel expenses, including charges for teams of lawyers bunking at high-end hotels. For example, Houston's Four Seasons charged one firm's team $230 a night while another firm paid $320.
The article said partners billed fees ranging from $480 to $725 per hour.
"You can't work a bankruptcy like this and not have your fees exposed to the world," Mr. Barbieri said of the articles produced by reporters Otis Bilodeau, Wheatly Aycock and Jenna Greene.
The three reporters at the weekly publication for Washington-area lawyers spent more than a week preparing the financial autopsy on 3,000 documents from both sides.
"We didn't have to crawl through the window of the courthouse to get these documents," Mr. Barbieri said.
Papers in the case are on a special Internet site maintained for the Bankruptcy Court (https://www.elaw4enron.com/default.asp), but details are buried in a daunting mountain of data whose contents are listed simply by dates filed.

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