Monday, October 27, 2008

The Star Shoots Locke Reynolds, Missing Barnes & Thornburg; Inexperience at City Legal

This morning's Indianapolis Star contains an expose by Brendan O'Shaughnessy on the contracts Sheriff Frank Anderson has with Locke Reynolds that has resulted in that firm being paid over $3 million dollars. Every Indianapolis lawyer waking up this morning seeing that story has to be wondering the same thing. Why did the Star decide to focus on Locke Reynolds rather than the more obvious beneficiary of city legal business since January 1 - Barnes & Thornburg? After all, $3 million paid to Locke since 2003, translates into about $500,000 a year. That is chump change compared to what Barnes & Thornburg is now billing the city on cases that could be handled by the City's attorneys.

As a litigator, I have had a chance to deal with both downtown law firms extensively, including cases where those firms represented government officials. My experience has been that Locke's attorneys conduct themselves professionally, do quality work, and do not needlessly run up bills on their clients, even on government clients. Those are not attributes I would apply to Locke Reynold's cross-town rival, Barnes & Thornburg, which appears to base its success almost entirely on political contacts.

O'Shaughnessy suggests that City Legal could handle many of the Sheriff's cases currently being handled by Locke Reynolds. What is missing in the story is that while in every other area Mayor Ballard has sought out experience, sometimes to the detriment of getting fresh ideas, he has oddly staffed City Legal with inexperienced attorneys. The head of city legal, Chris Cotterill, not coincidentally a former Barnes & Thornburg attorney, has less than 6 years experience. The head of the litigation department at City Legal, Jonathan Mayes, has 3 years experience. Virtually every attorney at City Legal received their law license only in the past few years.

Anyone who has worked in the law, especially litigation, knows there is no substitute for the knowledge that comes from years of experience. One has to wonder why the decision was made to staff City Legal, especially its leadership, with attorneys who lack significant experience. Given the poor job market for attorneys, there are plenty of highly experienced attorneys out there who would have jumped at the chance to take those jobs. An obvious explanation is that inexperience of City Legal allows it to be dominated by two of the Mayor's top advisers, Bob Grand and Joe Loftus, who are Barnes & Thornburg partners. It's no secret around town that a substantial amount of legal work has been directed by City Legal to Barnes & Thornburg since Mayor Ballard took office. Having a forceful, experienced head of City Legal might have resulted in those cases being sent to other law firms which do better legal work and bill much more conservatively.

While I certainly appreciate the quality investigative work O'Shaunnessy put into exposing taxpayer money going to a private law firm, I think singling out Locke Reynolds on this issue is like a big game hunter shooting a squirrel while missing the fact it was sitting next to an elephant.


Diana Vice said...

Let's hope this is the first of many stories to come, including Barnes & Thornburgs' ties to the Tremco/AEPA controversy. Maybe the Star just needs a few news tips.

This continues to be my new favorite blog. Keep up the good work.

Downtown Indy said...

It's not hard to figure out that a lower-paying city legal position isn't going to appeal to an attorney with 'years of experience.'

The Mayor can't appoint someone who doesn't apply for a position, or accept the call to serve when the Mayor calls on them.

Anonymous said...

No chance on the Star doing an expose on b&t . . . b&t partner Jan Carroll happens to be the Indianapolis Star's primary counsel.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Wow, they have all the bases covered don't they?

Diana Vice said...

It's all starting to make sense now. They certainly do have all their bases covered, which is exactly why the Internet is the only source for unbiased news. I've learned more from reading Paul Ogden's blog in a few weeks than I've learned reading the Gannett papers for years!

Anonymous said...

3 years, 2 months and a few days to go...